Ep. 99: Wole Soyinka in conversation with Chris Abani

We are delighted to share this conversation between Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka and Chris Abani, director of Northwestern University’s Program of African Studies (PAS) and professor of English. Thank you to PAS for sharing this interview with us, which they hosted on October 2, 2020. Soyinka shares his thoughts on the American presidential election, the African diaspora, reclaiming African art, and more.

Before the interview, Kim and Rachel share some news highlights, including election controversies in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.

Listen to the episode below!

Books from the Episode

Political Protest in Contemporary Africa by Lisa Mueller

Other Links and Articles

The Massive Protests in Nigeria, Explained” by Tarila Marclint Ebiede

How the #EndSARS Movement Upended Politics as Usual in Nigeria” by Chris Olaoluwa Ogunmodede

Guinea’s President Claims He Won Reelection. Thousands of Guineans Disagree” by Lisa Mueller

Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui

Wole Soyinka

Chris Abani

Podcasts and the Study Of Africa: A Digital Technology’s Impact On Research, Teaching, And Public Engagement

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 51: A conversation with Lisa Mueller on protests in Africa

Ep. 75: A conversation with Richard Banegas on citizenship, identity cards, and more

Transcript

Kim: Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the African continent. Today we have a short news wrap talking about elections in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. And then we dive right into this week’s episode featuring a conversation between Chris Abani and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. They talk about values, religion, pan Africanism, and diasporic connections, art and repatriation and fundamentally about human dignity and universalism. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, one of your hosts, and I’m joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel!

Rachel: Hi, Kim! I have to say I am pretty excited to share this conversation with our listeners between these two creative giants who have added so much to our understanding of Nigerian politics of life and politics on the African continent more broadly, and generally a deeper understanding of humanity. When I think about their personal experiences and trajectories from their educational experiences, their personal life stories, which includes actually both of them spending time separately, independently at different times as political prisoners, due to their writing, and the stating of their ideas and narratives, and also their global reach the variety of stories they’ve heard across the globe, and the depth of the stories that they have shared with the world, they have so much to share with us. And it’s really a joy to listen to their words. And I want to give a special thanks to the program of African Studies at Northwestern University, and welcome Chris Abani as the director of this historic and really leading program, and we so appreciate your willingness to share this conversation with us in our continued partnership at Ufahamu Africa.

Kim: And talking about Nigeria, I want to point our listeners to a couple of great new pieces on the end SARS protests, which have been featured here on the on the show the last couple of weeks, there’s a new piece on World Politics Review by Chris Ògúnmọ́dẹdé and another on The Monkey Cage of The Washington Post that was written by Tarila Ebiede. So again, more great coverage of these protests to end police brutality in Nigeria and we encourage our listeners to check them out. There’s also a great piece in The Monkey Cage by Macalester political scientist Lisa Mueller about the current election standoff in Guinea. Lisa writes about how over the past two weeks dozens of Ghanians have died in clashes between protesters and security forces following Alpha Condé’s October 18 reelection. Now Condé claims contentious referendum in March allowed him to run again and permitting him to run for a third term in office. People have flooded the streets and the opposition declare the results fraudulent after Guinea’s Electoral Commission announced that Condé won 59% of the vote, and internet blackout and eyewitness reports of government security forces attacking civilians suggest that Condé is willing to go to extreme lengths to remain in power. Now Lisa writes in her piece about the research on electoral protests, highlighting in particular the work of political scientist, Emily Beaulieu Bacchus, whose research found that electoral protest place greater pressure on incumbents to implement democratic reforms when those protests receive international attention, even if that attention falls short of outright support. And so Lisa highlights in her piece how Tibor Nagy the Assistant Secretary for the US Department of State’s bureau of African Affairs had tweeted that, “the US condemns the violence in Guinea and calls on all parties to end it immediately.” So, now this tweet echoes sentiments from Amnesty International and the United Nations. So, we are seeing these protests, we’re also seeing international attention to these protests. And I think that these protests matter, I think that they also give those of us who are about to experience, you know, an election some ideas for what happens should that election be stolen? Right? Listeners might remember that Lisa was a guest on the show in Episode 51, when she talked about her book Political Protest in Contemporary Africa. So, she’s a scholar and an expert on political protests. And I encourage folks who haven’t already to read her piece in The Monkey Cage about electoral protests.

Rachel: Thanks, Kim. And we will soon have a Guinean expert on the podcast, Siba Grovogui to tell us more about the political feelings in the region in West Africa and Guinea in particular, and to root it in a contextualized evolution and thinking about leadership turnover and stability, and kind of the ways in which protests have been rooted in these contestations against authoritarianism. So, stay tuned for that episode, which will also discuss race and racism in international relations theory, analysis and practice. I’m really looking forward to that one as well. A lot of protest has already been happening around today’s presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire as well. There are several factors that are causing widespread concern within and outside the country. And the foremost issue is really the question of the legitimacy of the presidential candidates, including actors who have been involved in past conflicts who are currently contesting this election season. Now as our listeners know, the sudden death of Prime Minister in July this year who was set to be the President’s chosen successor and the ruling party’s presidential candidate, turned the whole political and electoral game really upside down and really raised the contestation and the specter for violence as then President Ouattara, who is currently age 76, and has already spent two five year presidential terms in office renounced his previous decision not to run for a third term and said indeed, that he will be running and he said that he is legally allowed to run based on a constitutional referendum, a new constitution that was adopted by referendum in 2016, which he claims therefore reset the term limits. So, he said, he’s now running for his first term, whereas of course, the main opposition parties consider this third term illegal just much like as Kim was just describing in Guinea. The opposition in Cote d’Ivoire is also questioning the impartiality of the Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Council, which validated Ouattara’s third term and simultaneously rejected 40 out of 44 rival candidates to run. Now, former president Laurent Gbagbo is one of the excluded candidates. He is excluded after being sentenced by an Ivoirien court to 20 years in prison for allegedly looting Central Bank funds during the 2010 crisis. And Gbagbo was recently acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court after several years spent in custody, but he is still awaiting the outcome of an appeal against that decision. The other main player to keep an eye on is Guillaume Soro, a former Ouattara ally, who led the Northern rebels that unseated Gbagbo. He’s also been disqualified after receiving a prison term in absentia for embezzlement and money laundering. Again, a charge which many of his supporters’ claim is really politically motivated. So, there are two main opposition leaders who are indeed permitted to stand and are registered to stand. Another is again another former president, Henri Konan Bédié, and Pascal N’Guessan, who led a wing of Gbagbo’s Ivoirien Popular Front Party, but they are both calling for a boycott. So, what does this all mean for Saturday’s vote? Certainly, further protests, strikes and violence are likely. We’ve already counted a couple of deaths in the protests that are ongoing, and these violence of the protests are likely to pit Ouattara supporters who are generally geographically located in the North against opposition strongholds located in the Southern, Eastern and Western regions who claim that they have been excluded under Ouattara’s rule both from administrative positions and benefits at the state. So, that political contestation and elections are really kind of continuing to basically leave unaddressed the underlying community tensions which remain because lasting solutions to the Ivoirien socio political crisis, and former political and civil war have really not yet been realized. So had a really interesting conversation about Cote d’Ivoire and the social categorizations, the identity conflicts that have been institutionalized and even contested with identity cards and citizenship claims on Episode 75 on Ufahamu Africa exactly a year ago, that was with Richard Banegas. And he gave our listeners a very good kind of overall understanding of the social context and how the current contestations are rooted in these claims and mobilizations around particular types of identity categories. So, I encourage our listeners to check that out again, if you missed it.

Kim: One last thing I’ll share for anyone who may have missed the podcasting and African Studies conversation I had with Msia Kibona Clark, Reginald Royston, and Peter Alegi this week, thanks to the folks at the University of Wisconsin Madison African Study Center, we recorded that roundtable, and the recording will be uploaded to the ASE conference website soon. So, we’ll post links to that and other things we’ve mentioned in this episode to our website, ufahamuafrica.com.

Chris: Good day to everyone. My name is Chris Abani. And it is my privilege to host the first event of Northwestern University’s program of African Studies. Gracing us today is a man who needs no introduction, and who is one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Nobel Prize winner and committed human, a man who are now struggling to put together an introduction for my friend Egyptian writer Matthew Shinoda jokingly said, anyone who does not know this man should unplug this room and go to their room. Thank you for joining us. So, it’s the wonders of zoom. You’re in different countries and we’re having a conversation which is wonderful. So, but mostly for the benefit of those watching, and I’m just going to sort of, as I’m sort of saying this to everyone, I have four questions to put your way, and then if there’s time, then we’ll take questions from the audience. So, I’m just going to jump straight in, I know your time is precious only have you for a little while. So, one can argue that your work, your politics and advocacy break down to one common drive, and unflinching and an uncompromising commitment to the centering and normalizing of human dignity in all aspects of life. And this is a generalization, but I think it really all comes down to the notion of human dignity have spoken out against the assault to human dignity via imperialist religions, corrupt political climates across the world, racism, environmental ignorance, and much, much more. In fact, way back, one of your first poems I read in school, was published in 62, in England, and it was called Telephone Conversation where, within the confronting the racism of the UK towards Africans at the time. So, I would like to ask you, what sustains you in this push towards the insistence on human dignity, which, no matter the political engagement you choose, is this underlying idea, and what has changed, if anything between when you wrote Telephone Conversation, to say this global movements now by younger people with the Black Lives Matter movement and environmental movements, you think more people have begun to demand for dignity? What is your observation as you continue to work tirelessly, in this kind of way to highlight the erosion of human dignity?

Wole: Well, that’s given quite a bit of thought to this, because it comes up occasionally. And I think it has to do with my, with an unusual, another town, acute pass of observation, noting differences. I grew up in a typical Nigerian family, African family, the other children, you have the extended family that you have the way waifs and strays, you have children being brought to the family to our friends, for instance, not without exception, saying, Oh, this is my child, you don’t really look after a child, I want this child to be brought up properly, and so on and so forth. And I noticed that, at least in my family, my parents took exceptional care to ensure that those who were not actually have immediate family were treated fairly. And equally. Now, they did not completely succeeded. There’s always, you know, the effort is there, the idea was stressed. I didn’t know what worked out. Because we interacted also with other families, where you could see the amado, that’s the house, house maid, the house boy. And it came from all over the country, by the way, we had, quote, unquote, house boy from Benin, we had strays from the ones from the North. And I think next to no, there was a difference, but my parents didn’t make an effort to minimize that difference. The worst crime you could commit when I was a child, was to deliberately treat an Amado, a house boy husband, like a servant. But notice, also, there was a difference between the attitude in my home and in other homes, but when were these kids were treated like right, they were they were just like slaves. It was easy to sort of go along with that sense of privilege. But for some reason, or the other, I preferred it, I preferred the way my parents treated us based on an equal basis with the house, the housemaid. So, I think that’s where it began. And there’s a lot of thought, one chooses, how did I choose that way rather than to put on as well? The son of the family, as opposed to the others, who are obviously poor, they’ve been trained by my parents to their school fees for clothes on their backs. The parent would come in a kind of subservient way to my parents, and then beat them properly misbehaving. So, the differences were there, from childhood and of course, between our family and other families. And I prefer that way. Parental approach, they were interested in like my own sisters and brothers, and I could not, I just could not consider them as being inferior to me. Now, from there, you go to school. You go to school; we’re talking about dignity. I was very small. I went to school very, very early. And because they were the bullies, Oh, yes. Remember, it is a boarding school. That is big, huge monsters who thought it was small. You were there to be treated like the amado, the housemaid who had treated as equals, which I thought was grossly unfair. So, I fought my way through secondary school, I got in trouble with school teachers also been on especially aggressive. And I teamed up with other small, smaller boys in my class, in boarding school, where necessary, we teamed up called it Alliance, my history books, to fight those big boys club all the way recognizing the fact that sudden factor of human relationships was one of domination. It’s always a tendency to dominate others to bully others, to bend them to your will. And could be because of the way I’ve been brought up, I was not about to accept that for any reason, because of size, or money, and so on. And this went on again, into university, where the kind of club I prefer to do with the clubs, which did not admit of an aristocracy of class by any means. Intellect, perhaps, intelligence, but even they preferred having one another through school. So that’s the way it went all the way there, there wasn’t any conscious moment, that’s what I’m trying to say. And unconscious mind, felt, we’ll have to fight for, or for this right to have to fight. It just became part and parcel of me. And I think it began from home, family experience.

Chris: That’s, that’s sort of beautiful and amazing, too, because even as a child, you are organizing. And that’s, that’s beautiful. But so, but then also even stories about your childhood, you have some indication of some of the advocacy, you’ve done that. Growing up, when I was growing up, I was just I born round around about the Civil War. At this time, we had shifted very much from the hope of a unified country into these deep ethnic nationalities. And, you know, you, it cost you dearly to intervene towards peace in a civil war, of which your ethnicity really wasn’t at stake, your humanity was. And that’s always struck me in a country that has often been divided by small interest groups, how your choice, always to move into activism, which is always controversial is led by this notion that there is a human ethic that supersedes any other kind of interest. Would you say that’s true?

Wole: Well, let’s put it this way. You mentioned the Civil War. And I try to be as honest as possible in these matters. Use the word peace. And it wasn’t so much peace that took me, into me, I feel that the war was unjust. We were there. We saw what happened. We have, whatever the causes. There was a coup, number of people who felt the coup was one-sided pitting one group against another or others. All that could be true, but what we saw, what we experienced was the hunting down innocent people. As I’ve written somewhere my wife’s wardrobe was depleted and used to assist some of the Easterners and get out of the clutches of some of the marauding soldiers. When war started, I just felt that the war was wrong. And that I didn’t and one thought very much war been basically wrong. I mean, after all, as a student, I felt that with others that were to go to South Africa and liberate South Africa from the degrading condition under apartheid. This we thought was our destiny, and we pretend towards it. Today, I consider it honestly, I find war stupid. At the time, I did not. That’s just what we were as human beings. That’s what the history books, largely were all about just war, war. And if that was our destiny, well, we would have been I didn’t, that’s what that’s what it had to be so pleasant peace as such, when I moved over to intervene, it is to say to my colleagues over the look, that can be a way out. If there’s going to be war, I guess, let that be a fed force. The only one who talks that way. We felt that we shouldn’t fight an isolated war against the rest of the nation because they had already been clever. They happen sufficiently, degraded, dehumanized, you know, drag all over the country, except in some periods, we’ve managed to secure them. So, we didn’t think it is fair, that they should fight this war on their own and against the others, we felt that there was a third force when we can neutralize the two sides, at least, not create a kind of alternative to this uneven and unjust war. So, it was not a sense of justice than peace, is what I’m really trying to stress. And the activism, for me, this is just part and parcel of my activism that I didn’t see after this was just pouring into justice and injustice, by a federal side, going to war against the people, especially about time.

Chris: That’s really…So, I still am still sort of still unpacking this first question, which is beautiful. And so, go back to this, the notion of the urge to dominate this, this idea that a group feels that they have, it’s almost like an entitlement. There’s an ideology that is used to justify this. And one of the beautiful ways you sort of articulated this the distinction between a sort of, particularly Yoruba, but I would say, generally Nigerian and West African indigeneity, and sort of this idea of larger dominations, who are either Western, or have sort of imitated Western dominance as being through religion. Now, and sort of separating the idea of religion and spirituality, but I wondered if you could talk a little bit about sort of how you’re using this idiom, and also the ways in which for you, indigeneity was almost a mystical path. It was always about questions, and innovation. And what we have now is sort of the deadening of that sort of almost the way in which religions that deadening the ability of certain people to innovate, to champion, the human element, so to speak, for progress, for unity, for this dignity.

Wole: Well, you mentioned religion, and of course, for us, this is a very critical issue at the moment. And also look at this problem, a problem with religion in large, historic context, and I ended up staying quite candidly that I think, sometimes I believe that religion, religion as such as the word an apology because the amount of horrors religions, especially Christianity, Islam are wreaked on the world, you know, historically, and continuing to now, as such, I mean, I’m talking about religion being cited as justification for going to war, for oppressing, or torturing, historically and up to now. And of course, it is part and parcel of this instinct to dominate religion becomes conflated, in fact, with an unequal human relationship. And so, I view religion with suspicion, I admit, and I always insist on that religion has also contributed a lot to the final sensibilities of society. Look at the arts, origin, which been inspired by religion, painting, music, sculpture, in architecture, really or inspiring, and this takes it from religion. And so, I separate genuine beliefs, from those for whom religion is just an instrument of domination. And unfortunately, that is what we are witnessing in Nigeria today. That is what is being used to, absolutely brutalized and destabilize entire society. Therefore, religion is losing respect people from those who normally would want to pay tribute to religions, religion’s contribution to civilizations. What we see really is the domination, the human being, that word submission, which has been almost like a kind of holy passport, terror, by some religions that submission, sufficient submission to the will of God, submission to the Allah. In actual fact, what is since submission to me, the preacher, the mullah, the cleric, it’s there who create God in their own image. And because they’re bullies and terrorists, instinctively, they’re psychopaths, many of them, they latch on to God as an excuse. And so, they don’t even allow that as when normally spiritual, spiritual, spiritually inclined to pursue their own spirituality to prove the insight to them and work out their own relationship with phenomena and other fellow human beings. So, they speak on behalf of God, and they are remote from God. They don’t know what it is they did never, but it’s very useful, you see, so they create scriptures on behalf of the God they do not even know. So, religion, to me is now a problem. And anybody who says it isn’t, is just deceiving himself or herself. It has a real problem. Whether we have to convert world assembly of secularists and religionists who can sort this thing out once before, I don’t know. Right now, we must protect ourselves from the dominant streak of religion. And the same thing with ideology, secular ideology. If you look at the history of some of the most progressive quote unquote countries in the world, I see the conductor, preach and dignitary and ideology, we find it in whether you’re talking about Ethiopia, under The Derg, or you’re talking about Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin, talking about Germany and Hitler, preaching the purity of racist. No, it’s all about domination, domination, and a class apart from the rest, the privilege to share the, what we call it, dividends. So, democracy this time, as you like seeing in Nigeria, but the dividends of power among themselves, and they become and it’s this instinct, we destroyed communism, this part. Because sooner or later the world turns and says, wait a minute, wait a minute, it’s not really about ideology. It’s about privilege, domination, bullying, to put it at its best form, to sit on top of the pile, and then thunder down the scriptures with a secular scriptures or religious scriptures and the rest of humanity. That’s what destroyed communism and changed around it, shape and color of the European world.

Chris: Thank you. So, the last time we had a public conversation, you and I was at the New York Public Library. And it was the day after Trump had elected into office and you were, you were visibly upset. And then today, we’re having this conversation one day after Nigeria’s independence, celebration, 60 years. So, it obviously, inevitably leads us into the questions around democracy, which you’ve been engaging with, for a good part of your life. And so, I’m wondering, I know, we’re talking about failing democracies, I think that America, for instance, is going through the process of a failing democracy. But in Nigeria, I’m still hopeful because I think we’re still an emerging democracy. And I don’t think the evolution is actually towards the West, I think the evolution is back into more traditional ways of thinking about democracy. But what is your and then when so the uprise of all this uptick of all this, particularly now, the larger failing places is this uptick in violence, like ethnic cleansing in some places, sort of now violent racism in America, and growing up in Nigeria, from when you did all through the British and all our dictatorships and the wars? So, we’re no strangers to violence ourselves. And so, I’m wondering, do you have? Well, first of all, what are your thoughts on these failing democracies? And is there hope for them, like in Africa can return to the kind of Pan Africanism help to regulate? And what is your position really on? How much of a push back against violence should be violent or non-violent? Sort of a difficult question, but I’m sort of asking you. Where do you stand in relationship to? How pacifist should we be in response to people who have refused to engage rule of law? Who refused to engage diplomacy? What is an average citizen’s duty in that sense?

Wole: You put so many questions, not one of course. So, let’s go back to some observation, which I think is very nice, for the edification of some of our countrymen and women in particular, over this issue of American democracy. And to be able to answer your question properly, I must go all the way back to this the coincidence, of this encounter between us? Because if you remember, I did say we meant and I had an engagement, at public New York Public Library, the day after the elections. And so, your countrymen and women, mine said that sometimes we wonder where some of them actually dropped from anyway. And, and many of them said, they went hysterical, they went, some of them went literally insane. Because they said, oh, yes, he said he would tear up his card. So, I should I jump on a plane, when I have an engagement, I’m going to finish my business before I got back. And many of them, of course, it’s amazing. When you talk about failure of democracy, where sometimes the failure of the people themselves up from the dictators, they turn themselves into slaves into mental slaves. I want and the distinction is important that this thread, I made it before the elections, not even after the election. So, in other words, I was not protesting an election. I was warning the American people and I, at every opportunity, I was telling them, if you’re not careful, this man will win. He was appealing to a very roll crude, populist, you know, in the American psyche. And I saw this, and I say, complacency. I mean, I said it on a personal level, sort of students. So, like, in this particular, this man will impact the White House. If that happens, I’m tearing up my finger. So, it was a warning more than anything else. It was actually appealing to those who have been asked to wake up to see that something was being let loose on governance and on the American people, which they would regret. I say this because it’s not often. Like, I don’t enjoy saying, yeah, didn’t I tell you? No. But sometimes I think it’s very necessary. It’s essential, especially as right now, if they’re not careful, this thing will happen again. And somebody who recognizes with Michelle Obama read something which she is, and she’s also issuing this warning. And the Americans say, oh, this man has shown himself up for what he is anybody who doesn’t know it by now is a fool, anybody and they don’t go out to vote, this man will come back into the White House. And so once again, it’s a warning, but this time not backed by an account because I no longer have a Green Card the Nigerian entrepreneur really then took this shocked me really what shocked me, nearly unforgivable, was to start taking the side of this man, who’s there now. I remember some of the comments when I said, listen, it’s a danger to democracy. In one of the interviews explaining why I was saying so, this man is a danger to democracy. There is going to be wars, he is going to encourage racism, racist violence. During the run up to the election, for instance, more Blacks were killed by police than many years before, simply because of the rhetoric of this man, the rhetoric that encouraged the worst of the slave owners in that society, the wealth of that society on the back of Blacks. So, it doesn’t surprise me when the racist killing escalated, and so on. I didn’t say I told you so. But I hope people were drawing lessons from it. And it is that kind of mentality. And sometimes, in the case of Sonia Bajaj, for instance, we’re moving all over the place, mobilizing, and so I would meet Nigerians or, you know, they will say to me, well, you know, this man is mending the roads, if you see the number of roads is mended now. And, in fact, he’s closing down some banks. I got that feedback from our own people whom I met at the airports, probably know what you’re doing. But you know, this man could not believe it as it had been born into a slave plantation, mistaking it for a nation or at least a wannabe nation. And I’m afraid a number of Americans are also like that. Here is a man who literally wakes up for breakfast, to a lie, he tells a lie. And he tells a lie for lunch, and then he goes to bed with the lies. And how is it possible for anybody to even want to move and yet watched his campaigns and people utterly know and cheering him and carrying banners. And I looked at one stage of the poll, and I said, there we go again, I don’t think it’s likely this time, at least is less likely than before. But it’s not impossible. Trump has virtually destroyed America. In Nigeria, we sit down as a film station, they feel nation as it is, but America is going to be a destroyed niche. You’ll just implode if they vote Donald Trump back. There’s enough to impeach this man several times over, including failure to pay taxes. You pay tax, I pay tax. I’ve been taxed out of my senses in the United States. Yet here is the president of a nation and at the very beginning remember he was pulled up detailed taxes. Did he ever do it? No. And so this man has been getting away with murder, literally. And yet, there he is just he has a following. America’s reputation in whole world is this now, an abysmal load. Never before have I known a nation for down so low in the regard of global, the global community on so many levels. So it’s up to the Americans. I’m not part of that community. Just been telling my friends as I did before is get out, mobilize.

Chris: It’s I mean, so, but I just… So, talking about mobilizing, for instance, I just wanted…Do you follow? The amazing what some of the amazing young Americans are doing, particularly with things like the Black Lives Matter? Are you following that? What do you think about that? You know,  it’s in your, it’s in one of your memoirs, so I’m not sharing the secrets here. You are open to mobilize and some of us to have a if necessary, non response, if he wouldn’t, if the international community wouldn’t take him down. Is there a balance between how far we should push when you’re trying to restore order? Also, is that a slippery slope? I’m just, I just wanted to push a little bit on that to see what your thoughts were. Not that I’m conflating Black Lives Matter with any kind of violence, but I’m sort of saying, should they push harder? Should Black Americans push harder? Should white Americans push harder? Are we pushing hard enough?

Wole: I think that Americans, you’ve touched on very difficult dilemma. Real, real troublesome dilemma, for me. The issue of how far does one go to restore one’s dignity? Whether it comes under the rubric of democracy or your system? How far can one go? If you see young people being brutalized under a system, do you have a responsibility or not, if necessary, to resort to some kind of violence, to push back the balance being done against it. Ultimately, it’s individual decision in the case of a better things reached a stage when definitely I backed and became part of a movement to prepare necessary to remove a badger by force was no denying that we had a situation where people have been tortured. Parents who have been taken hostage and tortured to get information out of them about so called dissidents. It’s been popularized deliberately, and murders. Right, left and center. So called dissidents, we’re living on the terror where we’ve been reduced to slave plantation. And then when practices of mindless zombies who happened to be to have the gun and the uniform, what do you do when circumstances are like that? Okay. In America, you still have a system, which works has been degraded by this man, this individual. Sometimes you wondered if it was there. Look at the descent pace to which he wanted to see planning or imagine to replace a member of Supreme Court. Look at his statements about not guaranteeing a handle by if he loses, look at even close to being reasonable pronouncements and conducts and associations, but the system is there, the structure is there. In the case of America, I don’t think that America will go back to the days of The Weathermen, Black Panthers, and so on. No, I don’t think so. But there will be whether people like it or not, there will be more militant response to oppression and to extrajudicial killings. There will be an increase in impatience with government to manifest itself, perhaps in violent protests. You might have the sporadic killing, killing such as might be a matter of a policeman as a, as a response to Black Lives Matter. He will have those aberrations, but it was seen that these are aberrations. It will be, I don’t think America will go back or should go back to the days of The Weatherman. I don’t think. I think the structure can survive Trump and the structure contain incompletely the Donald Trumps of the world, it seems, however, moved beyond the present stage of marginalization of the section of the people of society. Then they shouldn’t be too surprised if the militancy becomes organized. And that really couple terrorist strikes from our direction will really make America implode. So ultimately, and finally, in the United States, no matter what Trump says, the vote count, basically, you know, pick maybe up to over 100,000, maybe. So, you know, there’s, like, I don’t know who’s doing okay, you have aberrations like that. But basically, the vote counts, it’s when the vote to not count. But people become really desperate, in turn, voiceless and feeling. But as long as the votes count, we consider this a different scenario, let us understand where in my view, violence would have been just that.

Chris: Thank you very much as a difficult thing to engage with. And once again, I should clarify that one of the things is small. And I’m just clarifying for the audience, that one of the things that’s most admirable about the BLM movement is in fact that, as you say, they increase militancy without crossing into any kind of violence, which is a beautiful thing, then we switch gears a little bit and talk a bit about diaspora. So, the African diaspora has always been something that you have engaged with, and I’m using that term loosely. But I think the whole concept of a modern, West African and I’m using this term modern in the sense of sort of like, balance, sometimes between what is organically, homegrown, and what is sort of Westernized or other can be borrowed directly from sort of political movements in the Caribbean from the 19th century, early movements in the 20th century, like, a lot of our early leaders was students in America and is sort of this way. And then, you know, the artistic influences, sort of people enslaved from parts of Africa, who develop the blues, and the blues travels back with African American sailors and is taught on the tops of our crown and highlife emerges from all this. So, there’s a constant conversation going back and forth, at least artistically. And you’ve been someone who’s highlighted in the past, and even in recent interviews, you’ve talked about. So, for me, I’m wondering for you is, if there is, what is, how important is a very clear and established relationship and dialogue with what we might consider the African diaspora, including islands from Cuba, including Haiti, Dominica, all the way from Jamaica, into sort of the African American context in a much more, shall we say, organized way? What are your thoughts about how of the African diaspora has affected what you may think of as a continental identity? And in? How important is it to acknowledge, have these conversations, develop it more?

Wole: It’s, that’s a question very much interest to me and has in all my life, I have never ceased to relate to, to regard the African diaspora as a continuing part of the African continent. I use the expression for instance, that I never I cannot understand why Africa should be fine, just by its own. Its sealine borders, when such a huge proportion of its population live outside. And the history of the dispersal is one which speaks today to the sense of a liberated African. Unfortunately, we have been very much disturbed by the intrusion of ideological misconceptions such as even the notion of defined Pan Africanism. For me, an African movement reached out to the diaspora in the most natural way. It became confusing for many, when the Pan Africanism was then taken to mean the African geographical content. In other words, including the other part. Culture is not defined by geographical boundaries, no, we are closer on the African continent in Black Africa are closer to the Black diaspora than to North Africa, would belong to the Arab world, culturally, historically, etc. And Pan Africanism was watered down by our insisting on catering to the interests becoming sort of in danger to the interests of the Northern part of Africa. And those interests did not always coincide with our own direction for liberation, self-fulfillment, development, self-expression, etc., etc. All in all, this, we were closer to Jamaica, to Cuba, to even parts of the Latin American continent. And ideologically, especially when the EU was being formed, and so on. In a number of leaders felt that, it had to be the entire African continent. I think that is one of the process mistakes. And if you’ve been African conferences that I did attended the time you found this, coral, this dispute, even in FESTAC, the cultural festival, the issue came up and became and we began, the Black African countries out of this era began knocking each other, enough was coming. This is backwards to think in terms of, like for heaven’s sake, who were those who underwent this massive, deep population, and by who were depopulated, both towards Latin America, it was a Caribbean etc. and towards the Arab nations. In other words, were enslaved both by the Arabs and the Europeans. And so there’s a commonality of interest with our own degraded people, far more than with those will be greeted us with our novel ones, are westwards. And so, personally, I have retained this sense of the diaspora been part and parcel of the African culture, no matter where the ideologues have to say on the subject. And as I was able to become my own person, I found myself almost immediately visiting the United States, the Black section is touring, the Black areas there, relating to the artists, the poets, the playwright, with the novelists, going to Jamaica, Cuba, etc. and finding a continuity of interest. I visit Sofia, what’s the name of the marvelous castle? I feel that this is part of our own continent. I mean, I share it’s my blood, which is as my people will build it, I can’t have the same sense of ownership, you know, not what’s not the same thing. So it’s a visceral thing. And to go back to what you were saying earlier, it’s one of the reasons why even the politics of the United States remain very strong with me what happens there for me, because it’s such a large population there and because we like to build the economy of that place that feel that we have a voice much stronger than many people try to credit us with a very strong voice in the fortunes in the United States, because we built a place.

Chris: The last question, and we might have to end on this out of time, but I want to talk to you about art, a little bit, just the plastic arts, sculpture, painting and so forth. And activism has extended even to that. So that’s the question is two parts. I remember even there was a moment, as you know, the audio of a look under this beautiful bronze hair that has disappeared under colonialism have opened a seminal image, if not only for the Yoruba nation, for the whole, I will think of, of Nigeria vanished. And you have been tracking it for a long time, and try to liberate it from many places, including the British core considered, including British Museum and returning it to us. So, I wanted to talk to you briefly about that idea of where you stand on this idea of artworks being returned. And if we have spaces where they can be returned to, and then secondly, yourself, avid collector of, of art, in fact, I was part of an exhibition of your work in Sicily, of your private collection, and, and sort of your relationship to it not just in terms of the way it’s been discussed in functional terms, in sort of a lot of art history, but in terms of just kind of embodiment of an intellectual creativity. So, I wanted if you just wanted to end with that, and then let’s see what the time allows us.

Wole: My relationship with art is, is a very mixed one. First of all, well, I think we all love things of beauty. We define beauty differently, of course, but creativity itself, the shaping, and molding, the designing and ultimate execution of private intuitions, which we then bring out for other people to share. This, I think is germane to all human beings, but some people seem to relate to them more strongly than others, almost to the extent that they feel they cannot quite leave them alone. To acquire them, are the ones to sit down and contemplate. And this universal instinct. In my own case, it became complicated when I began to see our own artistic treasures being taken out, the looting and of course, say plunged into history, the looting of Benin treasures. And then the conduct of religious stormtroopers will have their own idioms, their own traditions, I get to come to the African continent, and start burning artworks and seeing their works of the devil. And their successors are even worse than their teachers. Have these pictures stolen out of their churches or whatever, and go on a cleansing rampage? I mean, even announce it in advance, is it going to destroy all shrines and everything inside, and they go ahead and do. So that became also a political issue for me. And I like to collect them and preserve them. And if I see any somewhere, which I know belongs to my society, is part of my own heritage. If there’s any way of taking it back, I will display that and I can do it correctly. I will even propose that. When you use the word, reparations, that issue reparations that what we have said in the letters, let all these countries is nations, your African people, since art is the precipitate of the humanity of any people and you rob them, of that element, that commodity. You’ve literally taken their humanity away. So, if the European world wants closure, let’s not talk about money, not talk about material composition. Just return the art works you stole, you brought us on sometimes violently, return that and believe me, I’ll be at the forefront of the Truth and Reconciliation panel between the European world and the African world. So, just return that you might precipitate humanity which would keeping locked up in galleries.

Chris: Well on that beautiful answer, I think we’ve come to the end of the time. I could go on I would love to go on. But I want to be respectful and grateful for your graciousness. Thank you so much.

Wole: You’re welcome. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

Chris: Likewise.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistant Fulya Felicity Turkmen. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcload. Until next week, safari salama!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s