2019 has been, globally, a year of ups and downs, trials and triumphs – a year of troubled skies. A number of key elections happened across the world and particularly on the continent of Africa. World politics continues to march onwards on the road to perdition in the UK, USA, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Germany, Spain etc. And every area of life, sports, entertainment, education, finance, trade, the environment…demonstrates quite clearly that the personal is always political and the political, personal. If we do not get better at understanding how our yesterdays have brought us to today, our world will have no tomorrow. We, humanity, will have no more skies above us, no land on which to stand, as the waters rise up and cover us all.
This post is a reflection on my ‘decolonial’ work in 2019. I think of myself and my work as always having been decolonial, though I was initially focused mainly on what decolonial theory meant for African law and politics. As decolonisation became more ‘trendy’, especially within UK Higher Education, me and my work have been increasingly drawn into the scope of conversations on ‘decolonising the curriculum/university’. I continue to be concerned about how superficial these conversations sometimes are in UK HE and how much they are being co-opted by managerial diversity and inclusion initiatives within the neoliberal university. In UK HE (and elsewhere), the uncritical ‘decolonising’ of everything that requires change has become rampant. e.g. ‘decolonising assessment’, ‘decolonisng teaching space’, or as I saw somewhere recently (I suppose a bit less seriously) ‘decolonising academic gowns.’ There seems to me a profound lack of understanding, firstly, of what decolonisation entails. This despite the challenges faced in other jurisdictions that have gone far ahead of UK HE in decolonisation e.g. Canada and South Africa. Secondly, and maybe more importantly for this context, there is such a deep-seated unwillingness within UK education sector to engage with what [de]colonisation means. This is important in the context of a country that was an empire and in many ways continues to be so. [Parts of this essay were included in a talk given at the SRHE annual conference in December 2019].
I have always been fascinated by museums. Even in Nigeria, where the existence of museums sometimes feels elitist, acultural and ‘foreign’, I would wander for hours, lost in thought, around any museum I could find. During my days at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, I would often drag my friends along to the Natural History Museum. From the moment I heard that such a thing existed, I would find any excuse to go into it and stare at the rocks, butterflies, leaves and the exceptionally tiny stuffed lion. (It was really tiny folks!) Being in a museum often feels like being given a short-term passport into a lost and forgotten fantasy world. This fantasy world is slightly fuzzy at its edges, kept apart from the harshness of reality. It is somewhat fitting, therefore, an emblem of a dying world, that the museum I knew in Ife no longer exists and has been replaced by a new-fangled shiny museum.
During my undergrad, I woke up once to my roommate and very dear friend, making Amala first thing in the morning. I was flabbergasted. It was exam time so we had all planned to get out to do serious reading. But she had made enough Amala for everyone, so we all ate. The Amala was hot. Hit the Amala spot. So now, one by one we said, let us relax and let the Amala digest small before we go and read. This was about 7 am in the morning. Small small, relax turned into lie down. Lie down turned into sleep. Before you know it, it was 4pm!!! Yeepa. Money burn! Next morning, my Amala friend said, Oya, let us go to class jeje. Nobody is eating anything this morning!!! This blog post is a tribute to friends like this who help you create unforgettable (Amala and other) moments!
I am sometimes called a poet, though I don’t self-identify as a poet. I am a person who likes the feel of words… in any language. I love how words trip out of the mouth, how they express and conceal, how they can sound like noise and music, love and hate. I often wake up in the morning and write short verses for myself, to express, to feel and to conceal. Here are a few I have written over the years… some have titles, some do not. Enjoy.
Just a few days ago, I recalled that it was quite a number of Novembers ago that I was called to the Bar to practice as a solicitor and Barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Studying and practising law in Nigeria is quite a unique and often bizarre experience. Our insistence on speaking Latin in our Nigerian English accents, the wearing of a pound of horsehair over our very contrastingly dark afros, while being weighed down by a kilo of black clothing as we swelter in 35 degrees Celsius heat… these are just some of the practices that make legal practice in Nigeria seem out of kilter with the realities on the ground.
Preface: I have been trying to get this published on one of the university’s pages for a while. As you can see from the text, I wrote it over a year ago. I have decided to publish it on the blog for a couple of reasons. One of which is this: the EHRC’s report (Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged) came out quite recently. It misses the opportunity to dig down into exactly what constitutes institutional/systematic racism and how that manifests. The University of Bristol has also released a response to the report. This post, the EHRC’s report and the response should also be read in conjunction with my earlier post exploring how and why universities in the Global North should acknowledge and act in the face of evidence of their entanglement with the history of the trade in enslaved persons and imperialism. All the above should also be read in conjunction with the university of Bristol’s own pages as to how that history is being acknowledged (it is estimated that 85% of the wealth used to found the University depended on the coerced labour of enslaved people). It seems at the moment that the content and focus of the EHRC report (i.e. racial ‘harassment’) is being considered something separate from that history.
On the 8th of June 2019, we held the 2nd annual conference of Forever Africa Conference and Events [FACE 2019] at the university of Bristol. The theme of the conference was Building the Pan-African Inspired Multiversity. A short vision statement can be found here. The gist of the vision is that the Pan-African inspired multiversity appreciates that the particular history, experience and intellectual thought of Africans and people of African descent are necessary and essential to creating a different world. The outcome document from the conference is forthcoming. However, at this time I would like to share the opening address.
It’s the middle of UK Black History Month and I am returning from an extended blogging break. To be honest, it was not my intention to take this much time away from blogging. I have always loved to write, and the freedom blogging gives me in what and how I return is in itself reward enough for blogging. And people actually read and cite what I write?!!! I am beyond blessed. Considering that I have been blogging for about 10 years [5 on African Skies] it was actually quite a big thing for me to take such a long break.
I wrote this in reaction to oft heard utterances that suggest that those who live/lived under dictators somehow were sleepwalking as the dictators took and held power and thus were deserving of those dictators… I have been writing and re-writing this for such a long time now, because it is painful to see the world repeating the same mistakes, over and over and over. But we are children of time… And we forgot that monsters often come with smiling faces. They come offering us gifts. Monsters that come snarling and foaming at the mouth only exist in children’s fairy tales. Most monsters come to us with honeyed tongues and only gradually draw back the mask to reveal their faces. But we should know when we see them. Because we have seen them before. And I think… we will see them again. We see them now.