Browse Category: International Development

Define Culture

So… despite my tumultuous relationship with poetry, I recently committed to participating in ‪#‎NaPoWriMo‬ (National Poetry Writing Month), during which the challenge is to write a poem a day. I wrote something earlier this week that I’d like to share.

I’ve been a recluse about my writing lately so posting this publicly is part of my attempt to get back into the practice of sharing (rather than spend so much time lamenting all my writing’s imperfections). I hope to return to the practice the self-love I preach so often, and more regularly celebrate even the smallest of victories, like the fact that this piece of work didn’t need to be perfect to be done.

Note: I’d like to say a special thank you to one of my favorite poets, Idalia, for gently yet firmly nudging me to finish it and to the amazing friends I have who sent me the affirmation I needed to amass the courage to share it. 

Define “Culture.”

Attempt #1:
a simple roll of the tongue;
salt in the wound of history’s affair
with Spanish conquerors
that didn’t burn fast enough in the sun
to save nations from genocide,
or mothers from marrying
their daughters to the wrong ones;
if we define culture to be
a simple roll of the tongue
then I guess the murder of
a millenia of bloodlines
is justified as language preservation.

Attempt #2:
Culture is a cautionary tale;
If superstition were a weapon
then Africa would be considered
a nuclear bomb;
we would never have welcomed strangers
with cocoa beans and open arms
the way our government still does
to D-List celebrities and modern day missionaries, while
rich white housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown
search for salvation in the smiles of orphans on sale.
If we defined culture as a cautionary tale
told by pale narrators who lack introspection,
perhaps we would have paid attention
when our grandmas told us
they could feel their left eyelids twitching
at the expectation of visitors upon our shores;
perhaps we never would have wished the mermen
who called us moors, “safe passage”
in our native tongues
as they staked their claim
and carved their names
into our homes.

To define culture…

Attempt #3:
A synonym for “Home”
Neither a place or person,
these days, home is a political position
– the privilege of passing through
unrecognized as
an intruder on lands built on the backs of your forefathers.
But to the generation whose parents
cast us across the Atlantic,
raised captive in colonizer lands as cultural orphans
who never learned
to speak their native languages,
– home offers compromise
and forgiveness
to those with even less familiar roots.
A synonym for home…
only ever understood
in absence or disenfranchisement,
in dearth or gentrification,
in silence,
in loss,
in ostracization,
like a place that could never exist
for two queer brown women
and their extended family members
to settle down,
raise a kid,
or join a yacht club.

Attempt #4:
To claim culture
– to testify survival
of a massacre,
a genocide,
a raping of nations.
to dispute discontent,
or belonging
to feign knowing despite
the frenzy of stabilizing
a leaking boat
Culture is a usurper,
a lost turn
adrift from harbor
as fleeting as seagulls
in ocean light
and as slippery
as oysters
in search of
an anchor.

Do you know where you’ve come from?
Or how far you’ve sailed from harbor?
What glass containers of sea water keep your memories of belonging afloat?

 

When Doing Good Goes Wrong: One Woman’s Story about White Saviorism in Africa

Dear Readers–

I’m writing to ask you all a huge favor. But first, bear with me. I have to first tell you a story.

Meet Lindiwe

During my 6-month Africans for Africa project last year, I met Lindiwe (not a real name), a retired, 60-something year old African woman. Lindiwe had been running an orphanage out of her own home for the past 10 years. The government had agreed to offer her some money every month to care for up to two children, but the amount was no where near what she needed to care for the twenty-seven she’d taken in.

You see, most of their parents had passed away from HIV/AIDS, or abandoned them when they moved away to find more work. Lindiwe could barely afford to replace their tattered clothes, let alone their school uniforms. If not for the charity of a wholesale grocery store that donated canned goods each month, Lindiwe wouldn’t have been able to feed the orphans in her care at all.

But, one day, a young white American couple (that had been backpacking through the region) arrived at her doorstep, and offered to help Lindiwe raise money from abroad. The plan was to set up a non-profit in the U.S. to serve as a fiscal sponsor (i.e. serve as an umbrella organization) to the orphanage, which would enable them to collect tax-deductible donations from their network back in the states. Lindiwe couldn’t believe her luck. And, perhaps she shouldn’t have.

There are Very Wrong Ways to Do Good

Elated, Lindiwe gave the young white Americans copies of her non-profit’s official documents, which, as planned, the couple used to validate their US-based non-profit as an umbrella org for the project. Their website went up, along with photos of the orphans they’d met on their backpacking trip, and then the tax-deductible donations began to come in.

Initially, the couple sent Lindiwe money to pay for school uniforms–a mere two hundred dollars–and promised more would follow as they continued to spread the word. Thus, as they announced fundraisers — a few even hosted by celebrities — on their website, Lindiwe expected the relief she’d been promised would arrive soon. But it’s been three years since then, and not much has changed.

This past year alone, the U.S. organization has raised over $30,000. But, since their launch there years ago, only $3000 has made it to Lindiwe’s orphanage, and this is after Lindiwe has had to keep calling, emailing, and begging to receive the funds owed to the local orphanage to cover basic necessities: food, medicine, school uniforms.

Unequal Power Unmasked

On top of the U.S. non-profit’s unethical hoarding of funds (while the founders continued to post pictures of children’s faces and receive donations, allegedly in support of an orphanage they have only ever visited once), the once sweet and eager American couple has become short, rude, and condescending to Lindiwe; they constantly tell her that she should be grateful, insist that they have a right to spend the money from fundraisers in a manner that they please, and repeatedly go over Lindiwe’s head to forge “partnerships” with other organizations using (Lindiwe’s organization’s name) without consulting her.

FYI Lindiwe has a masters degree in social work. Part of her love for caring for children stems from her experience as a certified social worker for over 30 years. But, because Lindiwe is retired, poor, and her orphanage is situated in a very remote, rural area, she is unable to do anything about the U.S. based organization exploiting her. In fact, she’s been ripped off in  similar ways at least twice. And sadly, Lindiwe’s case is not unique; I could tell you at least a dozen more stories like this.

As this story (and countless others) demonstrate, there exists very little to no accountability when it comes to the west’s relationship with African NGOs. Incidentally, even African LGBTI organizations–many of whom I support myself–have reported being taken advantage of by larger, more prestigious (I won’t name names) LGBT organizations in the U.S. claiming to be supporting their efforts.

So, while there are many fiscal sponsorships similar to the one Lindiwe entered into that do work — e.g. in which the umbrella non-profit takes direction from the local African organization on the ground, is transparent about finances, etc–the unequal power held by the west while doing philanthropy in Africa often leads to unjust, unethical, and exploitative situations. This needs to stop. So, luckily for people like us, there are a number of African-led initiatives seeking to address this.

Meet Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)

I recently joined the founding team of Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), a new organization that seeks to correct the imbalance of power in philanthropy as it impacts Africa’s development. In addition to being a fundraising platform for African-led ventures, through which donors all around the world can contribute to various causes, AiD will vet every listed African organization so that donors can feel secure about donating.

But more importantly, AiD is currently developing a rubric for rating western fiscal sponsors who want to support African projects. That way, before the next KONY video happens, people can double check to make sure that the campaign will truly be supporting work that’s needed and led by Africans themselves–critical, community-led projects like Lindiwe’s that are already making a difference, because there are hundreds just like them all over Africa.

Since AiD launched its fundraising campaign in December 2012, an anonymous donor has offered to give us a grant of $10,000 provided that we can prove that there are enough people who support “Africans for Africa” that would make donations via our platform. Towards our goal of $30,000, we have raised over $28,700 from over 150 contributors, with just 2 more days to go. This is where you come in. With less than $1300 to hitting our goal, all we need is a little push.

Support Africans for Africa

I am asking you to give any amount you can — $10, $20, $25, $50, or more to help us hit our goal because AiD will CHANGE the way westerners approach philanthropy in Africa. This is not some wistful aspiration. This is not some dream. This is a fact. By simply existing as an African-led organization whose sole purpose is to facilitate ethical giving on the continent, anyone who claims to be saving Africa doing good work in Africa will be considered alongside a certain set of standards — our set of standards. And, this will be good for everyone: individuals, organizations, and foundations alike.

So stand with me, and Africans in the Diaspora, as we prepare to level the playing field. Invest in Africa’s progress. Invest in community-driven solutions. Invest in the idea that doing good can be done right..

http://www.africansinthediaspora.org/invest/

Celebrate LGBTI Africa’s Pride Everyday (and Everywhere, Not Just Uganda)

Uganda’s first gay pride has been hailed as a milestone of achievement for LGBT Africa. 

We often hear about African LGBTI people being persecuted by their governments, and in addition, being raped, murdered, and socially-ostracized from their communities. Their infantalization in the media is evident via the plethora of news reports that have essentially chronicled the queer African movement as mainly a series of violent acts, political debates, and perceivably (at least to the west) rare moments of triumph.

But is there ever triumph without steadfast resistance? More importantly, what exactly is triumph to queer African people whose lives and humanity exist in the every day, and not just within the 5 minute scan of the latest sensationalized news story?

How often do we hear stories about two African lesbians falling in love, not as part of a political debate, but as idle banter over fish and chips? When was the last time we heard about a group of LGBT Africans partying just because — and not necessarily tied to a social cause?

When people think about queer African people, how often do they imagine them as happy, empowered, and even ordinary? Can we really only picture their liberation as a photo of a scantily clad African man wearing a fusion of traditional garb and rainbow colors, an imported western symbol of gay pride?

Given the viral sharing of the photo of gay Africans participating in their first gay pride in Uganda (a country described by BBC as “the worst place to be gay”), my guess is that the west has succeeded in painting the faces of LGBT Africans as sad, helpless victims by default, rendering testaments to the opposite surprising, an exception that warrants mass (international) celebration.

Make no mistake. I am thrilled beyond words for my brothers and sisters in Uganda. Given all what they have faced these past few years — from that dreadful “Kill Bill” to the loss of an endeared community leader and activist, David Kato, and even amidst their pride celebration, harassment and arrests by the police – the images of Uganda hosting their first pride backed by a group of happy kuchus is undeniably a powerful symbol of hope.

As Sokari Eine writes on her blog, “If Ugandan Kuchus could march through the streets then so could we all – Nigerians, Liberians, Cameroonians and well the whole continent.” No matter the politics of pride (or even the looming threat of US imperialism through the western foundations that support them), big acts such as the Uganda pride festival are an important part of Queer African history, and thus, worth documenting.

However, during my short time in Cape Town, South Africa, which I’ve spent almost exclusively with individuals from the LGBT community, I’ve seen other remarkable acts worth celebrating.

Nearly every day, I have been reminded of the power of the mundane acts we each take towards our own fulfillment: discussions about family and coming out with my Zimbabwean host, invoking both tears and laughter over Buchu tea; an eruption of giggles by an aspiring human rights lawyer after her girlfriend whispers something in her ear; the silence of a crowd of black South African lesbians as a passionate feminist poet spits truth about the impact of corrective rape on young girls.

I have witnessed the daily grind of empowerment of black South African lesbians, watched them sink and wade through the cultural stigma that surrounds them like a mist, clouding the world’s perception of their lives as ordinarily human. Thus, I have come to re-affirm my belief that we must also celebrate our proud perseverance, our steady survival, just as fervently as we do big, bold acts of bravery. 

For those of us who have chosen media as our battlefield, it can be easy to forget that LGBTI Africans don’t just live online, or on the streets, for that matter, holding up cardboard signs in perpetual protest; they occupy small apartments with leaky faucets, the residence halls of liberal arts colleges where they hope to launch their careers, and small bungalows in the impoverished rural townships.

Their “pride” may not come in bright rainbow colors, but in the dull pastels of pink and blue collared shirts that call them “lady” when they wish to be “sir”, the dusty brown of their sneakers after practice with teammates that call each other “fag” in jest. Their “pride” will not be heard in the deafening blow of a bullhorn, nor from a platform or podium, but in the awkward silence that follows when they reveal themselves to the people they love, and amidst the painful sighs they let out when they are alone.

I have come to deeply appreciate activists who often have no time to engage in sensationalized international discourse, because they are too busy doing the heavy lifting that comes with supporting LGBTI Africans living in rural townships. I  have come to honor the “others” who don’t call themselves activists–the every day queer African with financial commitments, awkward first dates, the pursuit of lucrative careers to sustain their families, and who despite all odds, wake up every day and renew their determination to keep living.

Unfortunately, many of these small, every day “triumphs” hardly ever get the attention they deserve. Perhaps part of this has to do with the tendency of western countries like the U.S. (who are operating from a different cultural and legislative framework) to re-tell and shape our stories and, in so doing, suggest which parts are worthy of global applause. Or, perhaps many of us are too deep in the trenches to reflect upon our work (and our lives) long enough to view them as achievements in the larger context. In any case, I believe it is time LGBTI Africans begin chronicling our failures and successes as we define them, and more importantly, fill in the spaces in between the bigger milestones, with our voices, our stories, our personal anecdotes.

So, as we celebrate Uganda’s first pride, consider these ten milestones – both big and small, personal and political – that are also part of the Queer African movement and history. These brave and remarkable acts provide me with daily inspiration to celebrate LGBTI African pride everyday, and everywhere, not just in Uganda:

5 Political Milestones

1) Health: The opening of an LGBT clinic Kampala, a milestone that would mean year-round care for LGBT Ugandans (vs. a single day-long festival) is worth celebrating, which is why QWOC Media Wire covered it: This is What Africa’s Resistance Looks Like

2) Entertainment: Miss Sahara, a Nigerian Igbo woman, competed in the Miss International Queen pageant for transgender women, and came in second!

She became Nigeria’s first openly transgender celebrity. Her visibility (and success) at the pageant, incited many conversations about what it means to be a trans person from Africa.

My name is Miss Sahara, and I’m from Nigeria …I just want to make a statement that because I’m a Nigerian doesn’t mean I can’t be a transgender woman… I would like to believe that I am beautiful. I’m here to make a statement.

3) Politics: Joyce Banda, president of Malawi, released a statement asserting she will support LGBT rights and protections, making her the second African woman president (after Liberia’s president Sirleaf) to come out in support of LGBTI African people, sort of.

4) MediaPambuzuka Press recently announced the release of the Queer African Reader, a collection of writings, analysis and artistic work (intended primarily for an African audience).

The anthology, edited by activists, Sokari Eine and Hakima Abbas, focuses on intersectionality while including experiences from a variety of contexts including rural communities, from exile, from conflict and post-conflict situations as well as diverse religious and cultural contexts.

5) Community: Amidst the racism and xenophobia in Cape Town’s male- and white-dominated gay scene, HOLAA (Hub of Lesbian Action for Africans), a new Black South African queer community-building organization and group blog hosted their first event, Poetic Just-Us. Simply put, it was beautiful.

5 Personal (And, Yes, Also Political) Milestones

6) The Power of Community: My Africans for Africa fundraising campaign to offer free social media and online fundraising training to African women and LGBT organizations surpassed its goal of $7.5K and raised well over $10K! Over 160 individuals contributed to the idea that LGBT African people can and should speak for themselves; the support I’ve received via this project has re-affirmed my belief in the statement, “It takes a village…”

7) The Power of Friendships: My best friend, who I nearly lost due to a clash between her religious views and my sexuality, came full circle after nearly five years apart and wrote a guest post for my blog, “Homophobia is UnChristian.”

8) The Power of Words: A queer Nigerian reader and supporter sent me a message recently letting me know that my writing had inspired her to come out to her own parents!

“Just wanted to say, thank you for all that you do… Your bravery and humongous heart have inspired me to come out to my Nigerian parents as well as ignited a passion to aid LGBTQ Africans, especially Nigerians in our fight to be visible.”

What I love about this milestone it’s that it’s actually not one, but two; it is mine, certainly, for knowing that my words are meaningful, but it is also my dear friend’s, for taking the big leap and sharing her whole self with the people she loves.

9) The Power of New Media: As a wonderful addition to my Curve Magazine feature, “This is What an African Lesbian Looks Like”I was featured in Ms. Magazine as an African feminist blogger to watch.

Not only was I the only queer-identified one (which is important to note as LGBT Africans often experience silence in feminist spaces), but renowned black feminist scholar and NBC show host, Melissa Harris Perry, shared on Twitter that my interview was one of her favorite reads.

 

10) The Power of Love: I recently made the “the ultimate commitment” to my partner :) In a world in which queer Africans are persecuted simply for loving, the bold, boastful, boundless love I have for my partner (and that she has for me) is absolutely an act of rebellion, or healing, of liberation, worth celebrating.

 

What other remarkable acts should the LGBT African community be sharing? What acts or milestones often go unnoticed? Why do you think that is? How can we be mindful of sensationalism and the hierarchy of achievement it perpetuates in our movements?

The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women: Progress and Pitfalls for LGBT Rights

Given the recent news about Liberia’s president fence-sitting on the issue of current anti-gay Liberia law, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address gender bias within an African context.

(I maintain that “traditional” gender roles haven’t been adequately explored as the root cause of many intersecting societal problems, e.g. sexism and homophobia,  and that Africans — straight or gay — should work together towards their elimination if we stand for true progress. Here’s my explanation.)

My search for information on successful models for promoting gender equity in Africa led me to an article about The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women, the first comprehensive legal framework for women’s rights in Africa, and an international governing tool that seeks to “improve on the status of African women by bringing about gender equality and eliminating discrimination.”

From the UN Women West Africa’s blog:

The Protocol is the first human rights instrument to call on state parties to legislate against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices and also provides for the right to health and reproductive rights. The Protocol is also the first human rights instrument to explicitly provide for the right to a medical abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. It also provides for the right to property and inheritance, equal rights in marriage and divorce, and the rights of elderly and disabled women.

In the above summary, I noted almost instantly that there weren’t any explicit protections / provisions made to advocate for sexual minorities (i.e. LGBTQI Africans), which is unfortunate if true (Note: still waiting for comment from UN Women, and will update once I hear back) because the protocol seems to be working; to date, 32 out of 54 African states have taken steps in accordance with the provisions and have implemented strategies to combat the mistreatment of women.

For example, per the protocol, several countries including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, have legally prohibited the practice of Female Genital Cutting, and  Zambia’s newly established Division of Gender in Development now reviews existing laws that discriminate against women.

In fact, the pace at which many African countries have embraced the opportunity to improve the conditions of women in their countries has been encouraging enough that UN Women and Equality Now (on behalf of pan-African organization SOAWR, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition) have launched a new initiative to train lawyers across Africa on the protocol’s application using this manual.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if African lawyers were also trained in legal advocacy for non-heteronormative women who are mistreated or denied basic rights for not conforming to dogmatic gender roles? I think there is a case for this, as well as using this framework to hold governments in Africa accountable should they choose to promote or sanction the criminalization of LGBT African people.

For one, a clear stance against using culture as an excuse for the mistreatment of women is already included in this protocol. In fact, President Sirleaf of Liberia arguably earned her presidency on a platform that challenged tradition; her work advocating for the rights of women has even earned her a Nobel Peace prize. (Ironic, that this same position is what is keeping her from walking the talk when it comes to providing protections for LGBT Liberians.)

But, more importantly, as a media activist primarily concerned with movement building among African women, I believe that a push to include protections for sexual minorities within the protocol would provide a way for African women’s organizations (including those which are focused on LGBTQI issues) to work together, rather than in separate caucuses.

I foresee some resistance to this of course. In my experience, many African women (even those doing human rights work), much like Liberia President Sirleaf, still view discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as separate from women’s issues, often paralleling them when they should be discussing them as intrinsically connected. But the same “traditional” gender roles that keep women trapped in abusive relationships (even at the expense of their lives) are the same ones that cause men to view corrective rape of lesbians as a justifiable lesson in womanhood.

So, before we — as African women – can begin making demands of our leaders, perhaps we need to have more conversations among ourselves. Luckily, we don’t need a charter to do this.

“My sisters, my daughters, my friends – find your voice.” — President Sirleaf

Ugandan LGBT Activists Sue American Evangelist for Inspiring “Kill the Gays” Bill

On March 14th, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit against Abiding Truth Ministries President, Scott Lively, on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a non-profit umbrella organization for LGBT advocacy groups in Uganda.

The suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in the formulation of anti-gay legislation and policies aimed at revoking fundamental right from LGBT persons constitutes persecution.

Uganda’s parliament has a pending bill, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” that initially demanded the death penalty for “homosexuality,” prison for failing to turn in someone suspected of being “homosexual,” and criminalizes advocacy around LGBT rights. The bill has since been revamped to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment as a maximum sentence.

According to the Guardian:

Lively [] is one of three American pastors who visited Uganda in 2009 and whom gay activists accuse of helping draft the original version of its anti-homosexuality bill.

The official complaint claims Lively issued a call in Uganda to fight against a “genocidal” and “paedophilic” gay movement, which he “likened to the Nazis and Rwandan murderers”. It seeks a judgment that Lively’s actions violate international law and human rights.

In a YouTube video from 2009, you can see Lively speaking against homosexuality to a group of Ugandans. However, he denies his direct involvement with the bill, and has described the legal action being taken against him as “absurd and frivolous.” He said in an email to AP that he has never advocated violence against gay people. He said he has preached against homosexuality but advised therapy, not punishment.  But, Ugandan LGBT activists aren’t buying it.

Said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, “U.S evangelical leaders like Scott Lively have actively and intensively worked to eradicate any trace of LGBT advocacy and identity. Particularly damaging has been his claim that children are at risk because of our existence. His influence has been incredibly harmful and destructive for LGBT Ugandans fighting for their rights. We have to stop people like Scott Lively from helping to codify and give legal cover to hatred.”

In March 2009, Lively, along with two other U.S. Evangelical leaders, headlined a three-day conference intended to expose the “gay movement” as an “evil institution” and a danger to children. Lively likened the effects of his advocacy to a “nuclear bomb” in Uganda and stated that he hopes it is replicated elsewhere. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged one month later with provisions that reflected Lively’s input

Lively has spoken on the topic of homosexuality in almost 40 countries, and worked with religious and political leaders to that end. In this “Letter to the Russians,” Lively advises that “the easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal.” An anti-gay bill that prevents speech and advocacy around LGBT rights was passed and signed into law last week in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows for foreign victims of human rights abuses to seek civil remedies in U.S. courts. The lawsuit was filed in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Lively currently lives and continues his work. Upon the filing, a coalition of rights groups from Springfield marched from the federal courthouse to Lively’s coffee house, Holy Grounds, where they protested his anti-gay advocacy locally and around the world.

For more information visit CCR’s case page and read the official complaint.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is a non-profit non-governmental organization that works toward achieving full legal and social equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

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