Ayodele Morocco-Clarke moderated “Writing our way out of social inequality in Africa”, one of the first panels at the Ake Festival with writers Siphiwo Mahala, Dilman Dila, and Mona Eltahawy.
As she moderated, it became evident that Ayodele had either not prepared enough for the panel or she had been given this assignment to fill in for someone at the last minute. This was because she didn’t ask any of the authors about of their works; the writers were there because they had written something about writing the way out of social inequality. Fortunately, the writers know their business and they found a way. They described their own work as the fielded general questions dealing with patriarchy, corruption, and colonialism.
Siphiwo Mahala, author of When A Man Cries and African Delights, who is also an official of the South African government spoke about the big issue in South Africa right now which is the #FeesMustFall campaign where university students brought the country to a standstill. In his opinion, it seemed like the youngsters were taking part in a revolution that their parents had postponed. He mentioned how the inability to pay fees or being left out of universities because of financial status was something even he battled as a student in 1995 and it was an important enough issue for him that he captured it in one of the short stories in his African Delights collection entitled Hunger.
Ugandan filmmaker and writer, Dilman Dila also made a valuable contribution to the panel. He averred that the cause of our poverty was NGOs who were in the business of selling it. This meant that improving the lot of those in need was the least of the NGO’s worries giving an example of an NGO that had been operating for twenty years in Uganda and hadn’t improved any lives. Dila made a reference to a documentary that he is working on where some of his subjects have been forced to believe that Western-style medicine is better than some traditional remedies they have been taking for illnesses such as malaria, but often resulting in the people having to pay large amounts of money for healing. A short story in his collection, A Killing in the Sun, also demonstrates this point very well.
Mona Eltahawy the writer of Headscarves and Hymens was without a doubt my favourite panelist on that stage. The Egyptian writer grew up in the UK until she was a teenager of 15 where her family moved to Saudi Arabia. There she saw injustices against women and it wasn’t until she was in university at 19 that she encountered books that defined that feeling against the oppression as feminism.
Now based in Egypt and the US, she fights against the trifecta of misogyny from the State, in the Street and in the home. She is against the oppression of women by men in all the spheres. Where religion is concerned she is against extremists of all religions be they the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Christian Brotherhood that is exhibited by the Republican party candidates in the USA. In her opinion, the men who are religious nutcases and run these institutions to police women’s bodies with their rules are wrong for women. This would mean the end of female genital mutilation, marital rape and other crimes against women’s bodies.
“I own my body, not the church, the state and not the religious leaders. Stay out of my vagina unless I want you in there,” she said. “I own my body. I can have sex with whoever, whenever with their consent of course.” She also spoke about the importance of #BlackLivesMatter, a revolutionary movement that was launched in the US by three queer black women. Being black, women and queer with so much stacked against them and yet leading this movement was in itself, revolutionary. Her passion led me to purchase a copy of her book at the reasonably priced bookstore here at Ake Festival., immediately after the panel.