Interpreting Silence, Mine and Maybe Yours

Malala

. . . and I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.1

I was at a meeting. The preacher declared, “If you haven’t found what is worth dying for, then you haven’t started living!” In my mind, I said, “But I am living and I enjoy my life although, I don’t know what I would die for.” The preacher reeled off convictions on which he would stake his life. I thought, that’s good for you, my children are still small, my marriage too young.

In my university, when students would gather to protest against government policies, I always left the campus and went to stay at my aunt’s, as I did not fancy being tear-gassed, arrested, or beaten or raped if the protest degenerated to a free-for-all.

Their protests annoyed my middle-class sensibilities. Shielded by my parents, I had never felt the sting of socio-economic or political policies. The more daring the protest, the more likely, that my university would be shut down, so that, instead of graduating at twenty, I would graduate at twenty plus x, x being anything from one to five years. This concerned me because I had mapped my life’s trajectory without the possibility of detours.

And so, Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography interested me, as all biographical material does, but more so because she is a teenager. She’s described as the educational campaigner from Swat Valley, Pakistan, who came to public attention by writing for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban. News about her work had floated in and out of my attention in years past, but as I settled to read her book, I shook my head, what was she thinking?

The man was wearing a peaked cap and looked like a college student. He swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.

Who is Malala? He demanded?”

No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered.

That’s when he lifted up a black pistol. I later learned it was a Colt 45. Some of the girls screamed.2

Malala’s story, in my view, traces the journey of her convictions, how they were shaped, how they crystallized, and how she learnt to live and expect to die for them. Her father is central to her story. She interprets her world through his eyes. But I get the sense as I read that even if Malala were translated into another set of circumstances, mine as a youngster, for example, she would still shake the world. Named after the Pashtun heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, when she was born, she popped out kicking and screaming.

Malala gives us a history lesson on her beloved Pakistan and Talibanization. It is a story I recognize: Nigeria before and after British colonization; Nigeria in the age of Boko Haram. Politics never sleeps. Poverty and illiteracy make indoctrination and intimidation potent. But Kalashnikovs and RPGs make the rich and educated flee too.

Her photo on the book cover hides fear and courage, a tension that she draws her readers to share with her family in Taliban-controlled Swat Valley and beyond.

Are you scared now?” I asked my father.

At night our fear is strong, Jani,” he told me, “but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.”3

She writes that her father hated the fact that most people would not speak up. She knew he was right. He kept a poem by Martin Niemoller in his pocket.

First they came for the communists,                                                                              

and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.                                           

Then they came for the socialists,                                                                                    

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.                                                 

Then they came for the trade unionists,                                                                        

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.                                        

Then they came for the Jews,                                                                                               

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.                                                        

Then they came for the Catholics,                                                                                    

and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.                                                 

Then they came for me,                                                                                                     

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I live in a land where my concerns range from 30% income tax deductions to choosing between Gouda and Maasdammer cheese. Comfort is a familiar place and I do not apologize for it. Privilege comes with responsibility and many are not silent. But I must break my silence and scream with more than sympathy, with my words, my money, my time, and my votes, because Malala proves that one voice can be heard. At a cost, at a cost . . .

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

1. Yousafzai, Malala with Lamb, Christina, I Am Malala (London: Orion Books, 2014), 131.

2. Ibid., 6.

3. Ibid., 115.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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Why Revolution, Occupy Movements, Terrorists And All Sorts Of Anti-Establishment Things Are Good For Capitalism  

By his own admission, Charles Onyangbo-Obbo’s blog is a (sometimes) irreverent take on all things African – and non-African. So, who benefits from the “protest”? While in my view, grey areas encroach upon black and white territory; his piece reminds me of comments about Boko Haram’s ideology: western education is bad, although it gave Boko Haram guns, TV, internet, and cell phones . . . hmmm.

NAKED CHIEFS

I have been studying photos of the Sunni jihadist group, Islamic State of Iraq, those these militants who are trying to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria – to begin with.

On June 10 last week, they made some mind-blowing military gains, capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and most of the surrounding province of Nineveh. Buoyed by their victory, they headed south towards Baghdad, the capital, taking several towns on the way.

Some 30,000 of Iraq’s US-trained soldiers just dropped their guns and uniforms, and took off for the desert. How many ISIS insurgents were they faced with? Just 800!

The virulently anti-western ISIS is so extreme and violent, even Al Qaeda distances itself from it. However, they were carrying AK 47s, and wearing sneakers. The people benefitting from the sale of the AK 47s are actually some infidels and aetheists in the west and Russia.

And American…

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Social Critics and the Human Face of Activism

Dennis Brutus poetry

This isn’t about Reuben Abati; it’s about you and me. He is just the ham in the sandwich, the one whose treachery, his becoming a mouthpiece for a government he once challenged, the spotlight’s beam has caught.

What makes a man leak from both sides of his mouth? I pondered this question and found it difficult to throw stones. Pebbles maybe, for I don’t want to excuse actions, but understand them.

So, I imagine that I am a writer with strong opinions who has nailed the art of persuading others with my words. My words are pregnant with love for my country, a sense of justice, and concern for the plight of the ordinary man. When published they give birth to a stream of followers whose voice I become.

This voice makes me a fly perching on the government’s egusi soup, small yet irritating. Knowing that spraying Shelltox is an overkill, the government places another bowl of soup on the table. Enter seduction: moving pleas from emissaries in babarigas and boubous, a call to arms for my country, not with an AK47, but with my words.

This seduction, more pleasurable than a woman’s fingers kneading coconut oil in my loins, causes my heart to race as visions of power, affluence, and a platform for greater influence fill my mind. Thoughts of Babangida’s offer to Tai Solarin surface. Does it matter? I know I will make a difference. I will no longer merely itemise our problems with lengthy editorials.

And so, I resume my new job in Aso Rock. The first thing that slaps me is the ineptitude of those I work with. The second is the indifference of those to whom I am accountable. All my lofty ideas, received with fist pumps, translated into memos that have been circulating in a hierarchical system that bemuses me, have reached the ceiling and died there.

In six months, only cosmetic changes like the framing and hanging of our work ethics in every office are visible. Money is changing hands, but mine are clean so far. I am preoccupied with change and our meeting minutes reflect this even if those that attend, now openly yawn.

Soon, I must sell a policy that smells like dead fish to the people whose voice I am or was; I am not sure for I am losing who I am or was. By this time, my children are in the best private school in Abuja, my wife has a thriving import business patronised by senator’s wives, and I have laid the foundation for my house in the village. My convictions have clashed with duty before, but this time, the stakes are higher.

I do what I must and then I read the outcry on social media. Haba! This longing for heroism, this cry for a saviour, did I put it in people’s heart? This search for credibility, is it because their lives are so untrue? At least, I answered the call. What about them? Useless people firing tweets in between replying emails in some god-forsaken cubicle!

I scratch my belly and the ten kilos I have gained causes it to wobble. I roll my tongue over canines that once drew blood, now blunt from lack of use. Look, I cannot sit on a pile of human praise anyway, such fickle things to base affirmation upon. Hands that tweeted me to the top show no mercy. I am a high-rise set to detonate. Before them, I crumble to the dust.

As elections draw near, I angle myself right. My loyalty may fetch a ministerial appointment. If not, I will offer media houses an exposé with names and lists. In the middle of the Twitter wars and Facebook debates, I will metamorphose into my old skin, a social crusader, a voice for all who forgive and forget.

The government needs human capital to build the Nigeria we dream of. When you are called, how will you serve?

 

I saw Reuben Abati once at a writing workshop where he was a keynote speaker. He must have delivered a good speech, I don’t recall. I remember that he was dark, average height, ordinary like you and me, yes, like you and me.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

The poem by the South African activist, Dennis Brutus, addresses the conflict between love for one’s country and love for a woman. In it, I see also the conflict between heroism and self-preservation. African Soulja reviewed the poem here

Reuben Abati: Journalist and Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 –  ).

Egusi soup: Popular soup made with melon seeds.

Shelltox: Brand of insecticide.

Babarigas and boubous: Traditional clothing. Used here to denote a custom where elders cajole one’s hesitant feet into a course of action.

Ibrahim Babangida: Military dictator (1985 – 1993).

Tai Solarin: Deceased. Social critic and secular humanitarian. Served as chairman of the Babangida Administration’s People’s Bank, but later resigned in protest of corruption within the bank.

Aso Rock: The residence and office of the Nigerian President.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.