Films have been known to begin trends and even create a true sense of “woke” as seen with Wakanda, which many claim are responsible for the recent rush into Africa by many in the Diaspora desiring to reconnect with the Motherland. YEAR OF RETURN Campaign in Ghana can attest to this phenomenon. A new film, Harriet, opens to the public on November 1st. It’s about a real life hero of the 19th century, Harriet Tubman, a little known name to most Ethiopians and continent for that matter. The movie introduces the fearless female credited for taking approximately 13 missions to free scores of enslaved Africans to freedom from the southern states in the USA through the Underground Railroad, a system of secret paths and “safe houses through Buffalo New York across the water into Canada. Born in 1822 into slavery, this wonder woman would also become a Civil War scout and spy for the Union Army, seeking to end the brutal system of slavery. Tubman would also go on to become a leading activist in the women’s suffrage movement, as even white women had no rights in America during this period. Harriet is played by Nigerian-British actress Cynthia Eriva a Tony Award winner for the 2015 Broadway rendition of The Color Purple.
Such bio-pics bring us closer to the lives of Black s/heroes, many times buried in books on library shelves and dusted off in February, Black History Month, for mere moments. Harriet, directed by female African- American Kasi Lemmons, will help us understand the passion that drives women when faced with situations that are near impossible to navigate, yet realize that freedom cannot be compromised. I hope this story of sheroism and leadership will encourage African women, in particular to find their strength.
Fast forward to another no nonsense woman trending, in the 21st century, with almost 50,000 signatures on a petition for her reinstatement as the African Union Rep to the USA, Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao. CNN has joined the numerous African news agencies and bloggers swirling stories about the unceremonious and ambiguous termination letter by her boss, AU Chairperson, Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat on October 7th giving 3 weeks to clear out of office. A successful medical doctor, Chihombori- Quao has been in the post since 2017 but a delegation dispatched by the Chairperson’s office including his Deputy Chief of Staff, Budget and Finance, Legal Council and Faki’s Spokesperson were sent to DC on the 17th to “…ensure a smooth transition…” according to the leaked Interoffice Memo. Hmmm doesn’t sounds like “normal diplomatic practice…” according to the press release issued by the Faki’s Spokesperson, Ebba Kalondo. The first sentence in the published communiqué reads, “The African Union Commission is aware of reports circulating on social media making claims surrounding…the recall…” Nice to know social media influenced the AU’s press release, but curious that there was no response to the plethora of African lawyers, educators, business people, students, artists and activist bombarding the AU with calls and emails demanding her reinstatement and/or at least rationale for the prompt termination. Gil Scott Herron sang, “The revolution will not be televised…” I say the revolution will be tweeted.
So how does this tie into art and culture? The outspoken yet polished and poised Good Dr. Arikana, a successful medical doctor from Zimbabwe, openly and passionately called for the return of centuries old artifacts stolen by several colonial powers including France. This incident has led to Ghana’s past President Jerry Rawlings weighing in, stating her removal came from “French controlled minds.” Many times the voices of our leaders in these esteemed positions are dimmed by the prestige and benefits of the post. Dr. Arikana put it all on the line and erred on the side of the best interest of Africans, those at home and those abroad, in the hopes of creating awareness as to what is really going on and how we can be part of successful campaigns for the return of our cultural heritage, avoiding the pitfalls of the past in the future. We will see what happens next, but knowing the good doctor, as I do, and I consider her a Sister and colleague, after years serving the interests of the Diaspora; like Harriet’s story may help us find our strength, may this fiasco help us find our voices, ensuring our heritage and wealth is never again pillaged.
Another powerful Sistar, my mentor and former boss, Dr. Nana Rita Marley O.D., wife of reggae icon Bob Marley, taught me lots about strength under fire. From our community activism in the 80’s in the Rastafari Movement to professional accomplishments when I served her as Managing Director of the Bob Marley Foundation, Mrs. Marley exemplifies strength and an incredible voice sending us message music over the decades of African resilience, unity and pride. With Bob’s 75th Birthday coming in a few short months, I had Nana on my mind. Recovering wonderfully from a stroke several years ago, the Reggae Matriarch who calls Ethiopia her spiritual home, sent a big ‘HARAMBE…I LOVE YOU” over the phone. Yearning to return to Africa as soon as possible, particularly her residence in Ghana, her decision to bring African Unite, Bob’s 60th Birthday to Ethiopia almost 15 years ago, remains the largest international music event in Ethiopia. All said and done, we look forward to a bright future where strong African women lead by example and whose voices are supported by men who know that the revolution may not be televised but will certainly show up on your newsfeed. Get ready!
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.