Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Memoriam: Dennis Brutus (1924-2009)

Farewell firebrand
and lyrical daredevil
whose campfire burned
Apartheid's homestead

Go well, insolent poet
and radical prisoner
who hurled words
at the world's insanity

Safe journey!
transcendent traveler
incandescent light
in heaven's conscience

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Failed Christmay-day Terrorist

Until yesterday, Nigerians like me used to argue that despite my fellow compatriots' involvement in Advance Fee Fraud (aka 419) and Medicare Insurance Fraud, there was no reason to associate Nigeria with Al Qaeda-style terrorism. With the frightening news yesterday of a botched attempt by a Nigerian citizen to detonate an explosive device on a Detroit-bound Delta flight, my country and its citizens have now joined that inglorious list of terrorists' homelands.

While details of this incident are still fuzzy, information from Nigerian media, reveals a very disturbing reality. According to This Day, the father of the alleged failed bomber--a wealthy banker and former minister--had in fact contacted the "American authorities about his son's radical Islamism, and that "a source close to him said he was surprised that after his reports to the US authorities, the young man was allowed to travel to the United States."

While the authorities in Nigeria and the US try to unravel this Christmas-day bombing attempt, it sure bothers me that a young man whose father claims to have warned the American government about the activities of his son-- a fellow who had, according to news reports, moved to Egypt, and later Dubai from where he denounced his family (a sure sign of the extent of his radicalization)--was given a visa to travel to the US, when my 65-year old mother is denied visa to visit her grandchildren in the US, many respected Nigerian colleagues routinely refused entry to attend conferences. The pertinent question is why a character like Mr. Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab to enter the US, given what the authorities must have known about him; or is it because of the fact that he, unlike my mother and my fellow Nigerian scholars, are part of the Nigerian wealthy, political class?

I wonder if it now means that I have to go through routine secondary screening at the airport (or occasional ejection from the airport) like colleagues of mine who have the singular misfortune of holding passports issued by countries associated with terrorism. In any case I thank God that failed in his terrible mission.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Contemporary African Art Since 1980, in the web media

Our new book, Contemporary African Art Since 1980, has received some worthy mention in two influential web sites:

It has just been listed no. 2 in the Daily Beast's 20 "Best Art Books of 2009." See the entire list here

Also, Xena Jardin, a founding partner of and regular contributor to, wrote a blog on the book. Click here

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Extra-Judicial killings in Enugu, Nigeria

If you follow news from Nigeria closely, you must by now be completely sated by stories of constant, imponderable acts of violence levied on the citizenry by the state police and security forces. Even more than during the years of military dictatorships, the scale of extra-judicial murders taking place in Nigeria today calls for international condemnation, since the Nigerian government appears unwilling to pay serious attention to this terrible phenomenon.

Earlier in the year, the Nigeria army was drafted in to quell the violent uprising by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria. How did it end? Well, the leader of the sect Mohammad Yusuf was arrested, paraded in front of the media and later handed over to the police. The next thing we saw was his dead body. The police initially said he was killed in a gun battle, until an army officer controverted the police account by asserting that Yusuf was handed over to the police alive and healthy (save for some minor injuries he sustained during the uprising). Photographs of him in hand cuffs in police custody surfaced. The police changed its story: he was killed while trying to escape from custody. When human rights groups complained the Minister of Information, sulkingly stated that the man's death will be thoroughly investigated. That was it. Yusuf's father-in-law, a so-called financier of the sect, was executed illegally by soldiers, in front of cameras. (Watch with caution!)

Now both the BBC and some national newspapers are reporting the recent mass burial of more than 70 bodies lodged at the mortuary of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, the former capital of Eastern Nigeria. Bodies apparently deposited by the police since the past 6 months. The police has once again come up with its usual mantra: these bodies, we are told, were casualties from gunfire exchange between police and armed robbers. But media reports indicate that 6 of the bodies are of young men the police had paraded in public alive recently as a gang of kidnappers. They were never prosecuted. But their bodies turned up in the mortuary. In another instance the police claims that one of the dead bodies belonged to a teenager SUSPECTED of armed robbery.

These stories leave me cold. It makes me wonder what bloody nation--I know it is a leap to think of Nigeria as a "nation"--thinks so little of the lives of its citizens. Someone has to account for these wasted lives. Someone must be responsible for the apparent brutality of these so-called security agents.

What rankles me is that the Nigerian Ministry of Information is busy buying image launderers to help "Re-brand" Nigeria. The least the Ministry can do for my fellow citizens is investigate and let the world know how those piles of bodies at the UNTH mortuary came about. The families of some of the "disappeared" men are pleading for help, and if it is indeed true that the human rights of these Nigerians have been so violently violated, no amount of re-branding will help the image of our country.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Life Objects, etc on Princeton's Webpage

The Princeton University website has just published a featured story on Life Objects: Art and Life Cycle in Africa, the exhibition I organized for the Princeton University Art Museum. Read more here.