Sunday, February 25, 2018

He Was Just A Boy


On that fateful day
He was just following orders
Little did he know
How tragic it would be

As a rank and file
How could he reason
Let alone question
His own superiors

When he joined the force
He wished to serve
Only to preserve 
His country's peace

They told him to man up
How tragic that was
For deep inside
His was only a pawn

But who would excuse him
He'll have to live 
With guilty burning within
His crying heart

Yet all eyes are on this boy
How can he pay the ultimate price
Of a young life cut short
His tears can't bring her back

May we all remember
He is just a bullied boy
A reflection of who we are
His pathetic people

©Chambi Chachage

Saturday, February 24, 2018

She Was Just a Girl


On that fateful day
She was going about her business
Her head held high
Almost touching the sky
Perfect for a bullet astray 
Aargh, she was just a girl

Though seated in a daladala
She didn't carry a banner 
To be confused with a marcher
Just an innocent dreamer
Her weapon? Not a panga 
Nor was she a gunner
Oh, she was just a girl

Yes, she was armed 
Indeed heavily armed
But only with dreams
Dreams that flew above the clouds
But she kept her feet on the ground
Until the bullet went through her skull
Only then she bravely succumbed
Oh, she was just a girl 

Now she's forever gone
But will never be forgotten
For her blood never shed in vain
And for the shooter who fled in shame?
Our pain is plain
We want justice! We want justice!

I see a nation in grief
The abomination is real
But let this be a reminder 
A bloody nagging reminder
That a poet is not voiceless
Unlike gold life is priceless
Can't be sold or bought
Be that of a toad or an owl 
And for every soul lost this way 
Sown are seeds of greater freedom
Oh, she was just a girl

©Muhidin Shangwe, 2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther and the Democracy of Imagination

Black Panther and the Democracy of Imagination

Chambi Chachage

The story is probably too familiar now. It involved a black boy by the name of Malcom Little. When a white teacher asked him what he thought of becoming, his young mind sparked with imagination: “Well, yes, sir, I’ve been thinking I’d like to be a lawyer.”

Leaning back on a chair and clasping his hands on his head, the benevolent teacher half-smiled and told him, “Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic.” Paternalistically, he explained that in such day and age it was not realistically for a black person to be a lawyer. So, the black had to imagine something else. In fact, the teacher started imagining for him.

 Ironically, that is the same year that a young black lawyer,  Thurgood Marshall, won a US Supreme Court case that is now immortalized in the film, ‘Marshall.’ Yet in one conversation the imagination of a black boy was shattered. Of course, that ‘Boy Wonder’ grew up to be a legend. This is how he then interpreted it:

Note the keyword ‘future' for the new blockbuster on the block, Black Panther, is an Afrofuturism film. To put it simply, that is an attempt to imagine possible futures for Africa and its Diaspora. You may wish to call it the SciFi of an Africana - or even Black - World.

That is why it is important not to limit the film by the tyranny of the experts’ imaginations. For sure, we cannot agree about it. There are those who draw from it a great sense of black affinity. For others, it is another painful source of black anguish. Yet to some ‘souls of black folk’, it elicits a nagging feeling of ambivalence. And all that is okay given our varying points of experiencing intersectionality.

I, for one, find the gullible use of the term ‘tribe’ that African scholars have fought hard to deconstruct disappointing. The patriarchy of ‘absolute monarchy’ is also appalling. One cannot help but also be sympathetic to the critiques of the demonization of Killmonger who is the closest character to what Malcolm X or Black Panther Party members were in their radical attempts to bring black - if not global - liberation. All that matters but they should not cloud the positivity of representation captured below: 

Thus, what should also matter as we continue to reflect and review it, is to let a thousand flowers bloom as we imagine the future - nay, futures - of Global Africa. Even if the movie is part and parcel of the corporate capitalism of Hollywood, at least let us not deny it its  ‘revolutionary’ or ‘liberatory’ credentials. Part of its heritage is what Jelani Cobb refers to as “an entire lineage of that pan-African tradition insisted on was a kind of democracy of the imagination.”

Such was the democracy that Malcolm X was denied when he was Malcolm Little. Now it is partly possible for the likes of him to practice it. After all this is what the ancestors behind the lineage Cobb is referring to imagined it, that is, “If the subordination of Africa had begun in the minds of white people, its reclamation, they reasoned, would begin in the minds of black ones.”

Yes, let ‘black nerds like Shuri imagine they can use technology responsibly and save the future of Africa and the world for that matter. Why not? Surely one can hardly dispute Chrystal M. Fleming’s argument that in Black Panther there is “a colonized vision of progress over-determined by Western technocentrism.” As she further puts it, defining “civilization and the value of human beings in terms of technological advancement” endangers the earth.

For her, “all of this points to the limits of our collective imaginations, the constraints we face in representing black liberation when our concepts are always, already thoroughly infused with colonialism, capitalism and even more ancient hierarchical ways of defining human worth.” I concur.

But should we now throw the tech baby with the technocentric bathwater? No! All we need is to both decolonize and democratize  our technological imaginations. And Black Panther is not simply presenting us with a “technocentric Wakanda.” With its seemingly glowing flowers of life, it is highlighting the need to preserve the soul of the earth. Even its way of preserving vibranium is pro-life.

Rather than limiting our imaginations, Black Panther is more of an invitation to keep dreaming and imagining. And this is what the likes of Cobb and Fleming are doing in imagining other futures in their responses and reviews. It is what its sequel, I imagine, will do.

Malcolm Little, like the black boy at the end of the film, would feel anything imaginable is possible. If black Wakandans can make such a transformative spaceship for uplifting an ‘LA hood’, why shouldn’t he? That is its ‘black power’- to empower what the late Abiola Irele refers to as the core task of The African Imagination.

Black girls and boys can because black women and men could.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Is Chimamanda Adichie a Postcolonial Theorist?

Is Chimamanda Adichie a Postcolonial Theorist?

Chambi Chachage

 Grace A. Musila has reignited the social media debate on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's controversial comments on postcolonial theory during a recent interview. "As an academic", the associate professor in the English Department at Stellenbosch University in South Africa informs us, "I am grateful for the interview, which eloquently demystifies postcolonial theory, despite her disavowal of it." She then eloquently unpacks how "the interview makes for an excellent introduction to this theory."

From the outset, it is clear that the piece is a defense of both postcolonial theory and theorists. Why shouldn't it be? After all, the two have been the cornerstone of literary criticism in departments of English, Comparative Literature and even African Studies.

It is thus not surprising that Musila invokes the Kenyan author of Migritude, Shailja Patel's tweets that chided Adichie for not paying homage to what, it seems, has become a postcolonial canon. I am particularly interested in this tweet that she did not quote directly: 

At the heart of this tweet - and Musila's own affirmation that "Adichie is a beneficiary of the space-clearing labour of generations of postcolonial theorists" - is that it is postcolonial theory that really made it possible for African writers to be read. "Who put Purple Hibiscus on college reading lists and syllabi", Patel queries elsewhere about Adichie's writings, "catapulting the first novel of an unknown Nigerian writer to critical and commercial success? Academic feminists, versed in post colonial theory."

One is thus questioned for not (re)affirming herself as a product - or even byproduct - of  postcolonial theorists. It doesn't matter that Adichie has often celebrated what Patel describes as "labours and struggles of many scholars, past and present, carved out the spaces where her voice could land." It is not enough - and it does not matter - that, for instance, she once penned this poetic tribute:

Her postcolonial critics would only be appeased if she says, I am able to speak because this and that postcolonial theorist first spoke. Indeed, this is how Musila puts it: "When Adichie affirms in the interview 'I think of myself as coming from a tradition,' and names her literary precursors, she overlooks the feminist and postcolonial theorists who made her possible. They are part of her lineage."

But what makes one a postcolonial theorist? Does calling someone such makes her/him a postcolonial theorist? Why should someone be forced to be labelled - or conceived - as a postcolonial theorist?

Musila seems to subscribe to that idea that it does not matter whether you call yourself this or that. For her, at least it appears so in this instance, if it quacks like a duck then it is a duck. But, to borrow the parlance of a pioneering postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, can a duck speak? Or can a swan speak and say it is not a duck or a descendant of ducks? But Adichie can.

Yet, she either has to be silenced or be spoken for and thus be told:

Decidedly, even Frantz Fanon, the author of 'A Dying Colonialism' and 'Towards the African Revolution', does not have a say here:

Such a totalizing imposition of an otherwise 'post-totalizing' theory is, quite frankly, beyond irony. It probably explains why Adichie joked about professors inventing postcolonial theory to get jobs. For sure "humor", as Musila aptly puts it, "is rarely innocent." However, by concluding "Adichie's quip about postcolonial theory is revealing about her low regard for academics," Musila shifts the gaze from Adichie's main bone of contention: postcolonial theory.

Useful as it may seem to be, the theory has rubbed a number of radical African scholars and writers the wrong way over the years. Adichie is thus not the first one to find it problematic. Some critics on twitter alleges that she does not know what it is. One can sense they missed her 'tongue-in-cheek' that Musila has aptly noticed. Even Adichie's clarification on the irony on another question in the interview indicates that a lot might have been lost in translation.

Numerous book reviews and academic texts have applied postcolonial theory to analyze Adichie. Musila's own article revisited herein is a testament of that practice. Adichie has also taken an MA in African Studies at Yale University and MFA in Creative Writing at John Hopkins University. These academic fields in Euro-America, as Paul Tiyambe Zeleza's critical review of 'The Troubled Encounter Between Postcolonialism and African History' among others indicates, are highly influenced by postcolonial theorists. It would thus be premature to presume a professional writer is not aware of, let  alone not have a position on, that theory.

To get the gist of this troubled encounter let us revisit some tweets  from Wandia Njoya whom Musila does not invoke at all although she responded to Patel's tweets. Her take is particularly interesting given that she also graduated from a graduate program in the Euro-American academy that privileges postcolonial theory. She writes:

Elsewhere Njoya affirms that she is "also deeply suspicious of that theory" and, after encountering Musila's article, reiterates: "I agree with Chimamanda that post-colonial theory is a creation of Third World scholars in the belly of the beast searching for relevance."

Is Njoya simply defending our very own as some critics allege of those who defended Adichie? Am I? The jury is out, but, all I know is that for some us this is less about Adichie  - whom we also find problematic in the capitalist "commodification" sense that Sisonke Msimang aptly unpacks or her imposition on transwomen  - and more about our contentions with postcolonial theory that was thus shoved in our brains throughout graduate school in Euro-America:

"As an African student in the US academy, post-colonial theory was oppressive. At one point I was told that my writing language didn't sound theoretical enough. Looking back, I think it was designed to prevent African students from connecting with African-American scholarship ... the post-colonial canon gave me so much grief because people who believed in it considered political and material critiques of empire anti-theoretical. Spivak told us it was impossible for the subaltern to speak and the rest of us were native informants.... The point of postcolonial theory was to hide behind big language and words with many slashes and hyphens that made reading the work so difficult. And then I used to think I was the daft one until I read Prof Zeleza's work, and I realized the work was deliberately unclear" - Wandia Njoya

Yet, understandably, the reaction that Adichie's joke has sparked among the ardent champions of postcolonial theory highlights how invested it is. When such champions unfollow, block or even insult their debaters on twitter, then you know how much that theory and its theorists matter. It shows that the colonial moment is not over.

Perhaps it is calling us to rephrase Kwame Anthony Appiah's philosophical question: 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?' Such a rephrasing could thus read: Is the post in postcolonial theory the post post-independence Africa? To that some of us would say, nay! Why? Because 'post' is not synonymous with 'neo' in neocolonial Africa. Perhaps such a response is what Ama Ata Aidoo had in mind all along when she was quoted as saying: "Applied to Africa, India, and some other parts of the world, ‘postcolonial’ is not only a fiction, but a most pernicious fiction, a cover-up of a dangerous period in our people’s lives."

Do we thus throw the postcolonial baby out with the neocolonial bathwater? Yes, if it continues to do what Zeleza thus sums: "In effect, postcolonial theory perpetuates, indeed reinforces, the Anglocentric orientations of old Commonwealth criticism it claims to have transcended." No, if it actually does what Musila thus qualifies: "If postcolonial theory is concerned with salvaging futures scarred by imperial greed...." And how can it do that if its practitioners imperially impose it as an alternative grand narrative on African writers and theorists who have opted to distance themselves or dismiss it due to its ideological complicity?

Let me end by quoting a response from a critic of Adichie's quip:

Ironically, the same could be said of critics: We decide you are a 'Postcolonial Theorist' - and 'The daughter of Postcolonial Theory'.

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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