Monday, September 27, 2010


Princeton in Africa (PiAf) offers yearlong fellowship opportunities with a variety of organizations that work across the African continent. PiAf Fellows work in service-oriented positions in many different fields, including humanitarian aid, public health, conservation, and education. Since its launch in 1999, PiAf has placed over 200 Fellows in 30 countries. Graduating seniors and young alumni from any U.S. college or university are eligible to apply. For more information, visit, call 609.258.7215, or email

Applications are due November 19th!

Tracy Emin, the newest Black British artist

So, it is now official. Black Britain has claimed one of the country's best known contemporary artists, the irreverent, smart Tracy Emin. It has been revealed that both she and her cousin the Baroness Hussein-Ece are in fact great-grand daughters of a Sudanese slave. Their black slave ancestor was sold to a Cypriot merchant, while their own parents arrived England after WWII from Cyprus. Just when you thought that Emin had put everything about her life, including the kind of stuff that could get readers of Maxim and Ok! magazines tickled, out in the public as works of art. So what happens now?

I suspect that before Emin starts thinking of what to do with her Sudanese ancestry that country's Islamist regime will denounce her, and let the world know that her art is a betrayal of the African woman; a blasphemous gesture unbecoming of someone who has strayed from the faith and the culture. Then they'd make sure she never presents herself as a lost daughter of Sudan and Africa. If you think this is just crazy speculation on my part, remember what happened to Chris Ofili who was denounced by the Nigerian government for debasing the African woman with his dung-breasted Virgin Mary painting.

The more important lesson in all of this though is that history hides so much from us, even as we confront, avoid, or just stare at the intractable idea of race and difference in today's society.

Read the story of Emin's African ancestry in Daily Mail

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Governor Akpabio's War Against Children -- Okey Ndibe

*This is unprecedented for Ọf ọdunka: I am posting this piece written by my friend Okey Ndibe for a newspaper published in Nigeria. But for some really curious reason it was declined by the editor. In posting Ndibe's piece I am just saying to the censors: you cannot kill the voices in the wilderness.
Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom is in danger of doing something that’s unforgivably evil. In the name of protecting the image of his state, he has set out to destroy two organizations that are doing an admirable job of rescuing innocent children who are stigmatized as witches and wizards – and then subjected to brutalization.

In a recent CNN program devoted to the plight of Akwa Ibom’s “witch” children, the state’s commissioner of information, Aniekan Umanah, resorted to the most bizarre of lies. Unabashed, this commissioner told the world, in effect, that the problem was a mere hullabaloo and fiction, the product of a scam by two groups – one, the UK-based Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) run by Gary Foxcroft, the other, the indigenous Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), run by Sam Itauma.

Following his commissioner’s shameful attempt to convince CNN viewers that the young victims of witchcraft persecution were actors and actresses directed by Foxcroft and Itauma, Governor Akpabio delivered an address to the state where he spoke along the same lines. In Akpabio’s facile script, the many children being sheltered, fed and educated thanks to the collaborative work of SSN and CRARN are victims, not of depraved witch hunters, but of two men determined to make a fortune.

The governor’s allegations are the more astonishing because he must know that his claims were deceptive. As a duly registered entity in the UK, Stepping Stones Nigeria is required by law to file documents disclosing the donations it received as well as its expenditures. If Akpabio had any proof that SSN’s funds were diverted, he could send Foxcroft on his way to jail by forwarding the evidence to British authorities.

But the governor and his commissioner are the ones making facile fiction out of a gory reality. The fact is that children, thousands of children, in Akwa Ibom are accused of witchcraft, and then beaten, burned, maimed and killed on the grounds of the unproven, ignorant charges.

It’s a shameful, shocking reality, and one that should challenge the governor and his cabinet to keep sleepless nights until the traumatized children are safe and their tormentors brought to book.

Instead of doing this, the governor and his commissioner have taken the low road. They have decided to wage a vile campaign against the two men whose dedication and advocacy have made a world of a difference in the lives of some of these persecuted innocents.

Governor Akpabio was not content to stop at vending a falsehood by accusing SSN and CRARN of fraudulent exploitation. Since his declaration of war – ostensibly on Foxcroft and Itauma, but in actuality against the unfortunate children that the two men care for – “security” men have turned the town of Eket, where the children are sheltered, into a theater of indiscriminate shooting. It is nothing less than evil to compound the travails of children who have been put through hell-grade suffering. Itauma, the portrait of a loving father to these maligned, mauled children, has been forced to look constantly over his shoulder, and to run for dear life.

It’s bad enough that Mr. Akpabio did not offer to make the resettlement of these children a singular mission of his administration. In seeking to slash and burn those who offer succor and a glimmer of hope to the castaways, the governor is, in effect, savaging poor children who had already suffered cruelty on a scale that would horrify anybody with a modicum of humanity.

It was in late 2008 that BBC Channel 4 first exposed the hideous dehumanization of children in a documentary titled “Saving Africa’s Witch Children.” As I wrote in an earlier column, “I was transported to one of the most gruesome, barbaric and dehumanizing documentaries I’ve ever watched.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Reign of Terror

Just yesterday I wrote about the travails of the charities assisting the so-called "Child Witches" in Akwa-Ibom State. This morning, news reports indicate that armed men invaded the CRARN Center, terrorizing the children and the neighborhood two days ago. This campaign against Mr. Sam Ikpe-Itauma by the State government is reminiscent of the tactics of the Abacha dictatorship. Who will forget that Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (MOSOP), had earned his death warrant after his exposition, at the United Nations, of the collusion between the dictatorship and foreign oil companies in the human and environmental devastation of the Niger Delta. Now, the governor of Akwa-Ibom State, having accused CRARN and Stepping Stones of fraud and for giving the state a bad name in the international community, seems poised to "disappear" these men. You would think that the ten years of "democracy" in Nigeria should have made a difference!

Given the urgency of this situation, all conscientious people ought to call on the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (who is visiting the United Nations in two weeks) to intervene in this matter, as the well-being of these unfortunate children and their helpers far outweigh the vain pride of an insensitive governor. If I make it to New York I shall ask Mr. Jonathan what his government is doing about the matter. But also, local and international news media should revisit this story; for it will be a shame if tomorrow--and God forbid--something terrible happens to Sam Ikpe-Itauma under our watch.

My helplessness is hurting so bad. But letting this matter go, without a final resolution that is beneficial to the children is not an option. The man dies in him, Soyinka memorably affirmed, who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.

Read the latest news from Saharareporters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Governor Akpabio and the so-called Child Witches

In a recent interview with the CNN, the governor of Akwa-Ibom State in southeastern Nigeria was asked about the well-documented inhuman abuse of children accused of witchcraft by their impoverished families who themselves are, I might add, victims of a very twisted form of Christian faith. The governor, to my consternation, charged that the problem is "very, very minimal" and that reports of this ongoing tragedy are only a "part of the media propaganda against the state, and [that] it was done for pecuniary reasons." He specifically took issues with a report sent to the United Nations by Stepping Stones Nigeria, the charity organization that has (with Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, CRARN) been the foremost advocate of these unfortunate children. Moreover, Akpabio argued that his state does not have an anti-witchcraft problem, but one of poverty.

But guess what, Mr. governor? Are you so blind to see that this witchcraft phenomenon is a result of the material impoverishment of peoples in your state combined with predatory practices of certain Christian pastors? Or have you ever seen any maimed "child witch" from a well-to-do family? It is either naivety of the troubling kind or outright dis-ingenuity for you to think that the simultaneous rise in mass poverty and countless forms of "Christian" faiths, is not responsible for the unprecedented cases of child abandonment, as well as physical and psychological abuse of babies by parents, families and communities struggling to make sense of their own sorry existence in today's Nigeria. And by the way have you not heard that similar witchcraft phenomena have been reported in other parts of Africa and Asia blighted by social, political and economic hardship and forms of holy sadism?

If the matter stopped at the stupid, insensitive response of governor Akpabio to this soul-wrenching abuse of the human rights of innocent children in his state, I would not be this much angry. As I write, Mr. Sam Ikpe-Itauma, the indefatigable founder of CRARN and Mr. Foxcroft of Stepping Stone Nigeria are in hiding, deeply concerned about their personal safety since the CNN broadcast. In the past it was Helen Ukpabio whose church, according to Wikipedia, "claim[s] that Satan has the ability to manifest himself in the bodies of children by demonic possession and make them become his servants in the form of 'witches' or 'wizards'" that hounded these men, with the help of a compromised legal system, for suggesting that her brand of Christianity and childxploitation films are stoking the fires of the murderous anti-witchcraft movement. Now, I understand that the chief executive of Akwa-Ibom State himself, is out to "deal" with Mr. Ikpe-Itauma and Mr. Foxcroft. Given the incessant political murders and kidnappings taking place in the State and elsewhere in southern Nigeria, I am very concerned about the safety of these two men. And according to a reliable news report the governor has ordered the arrest of the two men by the police (he forgets that he is not a military dictator).

While I hope that having gone underground the two men (and their families) remain safe, has it not occurred to governor Akpabio that the 200 or so children who depend on these two men are the ultimate victims of his terrible politics? The governor must realize that Stepping Stones and CRARN are not the problem; rather he must thank them for assisting his government in the work it ought to have been doing right from the start. If he is interested in the welfare of these children, in whose scorched hands lie the future of his state, he must then tackle in earnest the problem of poverty in his state, some of which is the product of the rapacious acts of oil companies that have wasted vast waterways and farmlands on which many Akwa-Ibom citizens depend for their livelihood. He must condemn the work of these so-called Christian pastors who exploit the gullibility and existential insecurity of an impoverished people, and he ought to make sure that the police and the courts are not hampered in the job of bringing to justice the perpetrators of this violence against children. That is what he should be doing, not harassing people who have, against the odds, devoted their lives to providing succor to these unfortunate little ones.

The world must keep watch on what happens to the terrorized and abused children of Akwa-Ibom State; we should all be concerned about the safety of the founders of CRARN and Stepping Stones, Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On the Association of Art Museum Directors

Courtesy ARTnews, Sept. 2010

I cannot help but comment on a photograph published on p. 50 of this month's edition of the venerable ARTnews magazine. It shows a group of men and women standing behind a guy on the driving seat of a really snazzy formula-1 car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My first impulse was to think that it is another stunt by Glenn Beck and his gang of tea-party jingoists motivated not so much by the crocodile-tear anger at the Obama Administration's handling of the economy as by fear of losing some power in the ongoing, ineluctable, demographic transformation of the United States of America. Don't get me wrong. The museum directors group do not, by any stretch of the imagination compare, in their practices and pronouncement with the incredible racism behind the Tea Party/Beck rhetoric. Moreover, the AAMD is now consciously even-if-belatedly working to remake itself by seeking greater "openness in changing the organization in its membership to respond to a changing world," according to one of its leading members. But it is impossible to not say something about how white the organization currently is, and looks. This is all the more reason to wonder why the art world, in spite of its supposedly progressive self-regard, is always the very last to actually effect meaningful change to acknowledge the gains America has made in letting its non-white populations gain access to real and symbolic seats of power. If the NFL, MLB and NBA have diversified team managerial cadres (at least a little bit), the AAMD sure can. Or are they waiting for the Hockey League? The AAMD sure can show it means business about change; and it can do that by actively working to add more color--and I don't mean using saturated photo inks, or bringing along the museum security personnel!--to the next group photo. I happen to know quite a few of the members of the group, and that they are very decent people. But it is often easier to take the status quo as acceptable. I suggest that each member of the Association should take a second look at their very nice group photo; perhaps the urgency of the problem of lack of racial diversity should be all too obvious.