by Emeka Ofoegbu
The moderator, Ayọ̀délé Morocco-Clarke, takes her seat on the stage and one by one the panelists fill the remaining empty seats on the stage. It is a spare but highly intellectual crowd with the likes of Nnimo Bassey, Oláòkun Sóyínká and Colette Braeckman all rearing to go. The panel made up of Mona Eltahawy – Egyptian feminist writer and public speaker, Dilman Dila – Ugandan author and filmmaker, and Siphiwo Mahala – South African author all look prepared to give the topic a good thrashing and they do. From the moment the moderator reads out the first question the panelists come out swinging.
One of the first to speak is Dilman Dila, he shares his view on NGOs and why he feels they are an evil that needs to be done away with in Africa. Having worked with several forms of NGOs in his home country for 10 years he commands the subject and minces no words when asked if he feels the NGOs are making Africans lazy with a resolute.
Dilman then goes on further to say for a long time he has come to see NGOs as “people who sell poverty for a living” regarding the serious dependence on these NGOs by African countries which affects their mindset towards productivity and births laziness. Dilman adds that if these NGOs were to leave and we (Africa) establish a working system we’d be better off for it.
Siphiwo Mahala takes on the next question responding to Ayọ̀délé asking if he believes writers have a responsibility to battle the societal evils with an affirmative. Siphiwo believes writers should exhibit a level of patriotism and draw from the happenings around them, take responsibility as patriots and effect positive change. Siphiwo tells us as Africans not being on a poor continent but one enriched with many resources “we should move beyond blaming colonialism after so many years.” She further saying there is a need as writers to tap into what has already been written as a source of inspiration and guidance. Citing George Orwell’s 1984, he explains how after dethroning one dictator in the book, the elected officials go in to repeat the evils of their predecessors. He uses this point to emphasise the need for writers to be “the conscience of the nation.”
Ayodele then poses the next question to Mona as it is a question about the role of sexism in creating social inequality, which is right up Mona’s alley. The role of patriarchy in social inequality is the question and Mona takes her first swing of many with an opener “patriarchy is the issue”. She adds that it would be incomplete and unfair to say, although it is a common fact, that nobody in many parts of Africa is truly free because the government oppresses everyone without adding that this same government specifically oppresses women. She makes an allusion to the trifecta of oppression she mentioned earlier which is made up of the state, the street, and the home, saying this trifecta plays a major role in oppressing women in Africa. Mona points out how the effects of patriarchy and the damage it does is treated as a side issue and women are often forgotten to be a half of society. She says “the patriarch in the presidential palace has an echo on the street corner and has an echo in the bedroom and all of those patriarchs have to be overthrown”. To a follow-up question concerning what women can do to put an end to patriarchy she responds “women have to be audacious and basically say fuck this shit” as a means to take the power back, this is received with loud applause and whoops of approval from members of the audience.
Ayọ̀délé sends the next question to Dilman. It is about the waning fervor of seemingly idealistic and revolutionary leaders and why this is so. Dilman takes us to his motherland of Uganda to answer the question. He talks about how the people contribute to the problem that is the government. He talks about how the people have grown complacent and seem to have accepted the corruption perpetrated by the government officials even going as far as saying the corruption they experience is “not the bad type of corruption because the government invests in the country” he attributes the abandonment of revolutionary ideals by these government officials who came into power with much promise to the growing support of the people who refuse to take an opposing stand.
Ayodele’s next question goes to Siphiwo and it’s about the youth taking charge in societal issues to which Siphiwo says we should “challenge the status quo if we must see change”. He commends the change in the youth who are taking a more active role in the affairs of the government and says this is one of many steps we need to take in the right direction.
Mona steps up to the plate this time to hit a home-run with “stay out of my vagina unless I want them there” which is her response to religious enthusiast who try to control her sexuality. The question is the role of religion in controlling sexuality and she has an arsenal of responses. She talks more about the trifecta of patriarchy and the qualifications of the revolution against this trifecta which she says are “being black, being a woman and being queer” fulfilling these three or any of these makes you apart of the revolution. She reminds us that of all forms of the revolution, “the sexual revolution at home is the most important revolution cause at the end of the day; all the other oppositions go home.”
On militancy, Dilman fires first opening with a statement that he believes “militancy is something that comes out of frustration” while Mona believes militancy is another form of patriarchy that needs to be opposed and done away with.
One of the questions asked from the audience from Nnimo Bassey was directed at Dilman about his view on NGOs. Nnimo wants to know how he arrived at his notion that NGOs were an evil to which Dilman specified he was referring to the developmental NGOs especially the ones he’d worked with directly. The next question was for Mona from Dr Oláòkun Sóyínká who asked how she can be a true feminist and a true Muslim to which she responds “I am a secular feminist not a religious feminist”.
The panel discussion comes to a satisfactory close.