Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

October 25, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Peace Pipes and Oil Pipelines

Niger Delta Avengers Destroy Oil Pipelines

I have some sympathy for the Niger Delta Avengers, though I abhor their actions. They destroy oil pipelines to advance their cause. Yet they have reason to be upset.

Since the early days of drilling for oil in Nigeria, the people of the Niger Delta have complained about the degradation of their land. Oil pipelines crossed agricultural land. Leaks were devastating.

The gas flares have been a cause of considerable hardship.

Ken Saro Wiwa

Ken Saro Wiwa, Ogoni activist

More than two decades ago Ken Saro-Wiwa led protests by his Ogoni people. He was executed on trumped-up  charges, according to his supporters.

Today the Niger Delta Avengers are destroying oil pipelines. They are making the difficult economic situation of the country even worse. Less oil to export means fewer dollars in foreign exchange and lower government revenue.

Their latest attack was on the Escravos pipeline belonging to Chevron.

They are demanding no repairs be made to any of the pipeines they’ve damaged until they have negotiations with the federal government. They do not respect their state government – the leaders of Delta State.

The article in says, “The attack comes just a day after the Avengers said it would resume bombing of oil facilities if government made any further mistake to enter into negotiation with selfish leaders in the region.”

It must be very difficult for the federal leaders to know how to deal with this group. Are they giving in to terrorism? Is there a clear leader?

Connecting the Ceremonial Pipe and Oil Pipeline

An article in relates the story of the ‘showdown at Standing Rock.‘ The conflict between the Native Americans and Energy Transfer Partners is also over an oil pipeline.

The Native Americans say the pipeline will destroy ancestral lands and burial grounds. The pipeline doesn’t cross tribal lands. But the author, Jim Hightower, says the lines defining those lands were arbitrary.

He talks about the peace pipe.

We saw examples like this in the American Indian Museum in DC.

We saw examples like this in the National Museum of the American Indian in DC.

He says that we’ve usually been taught that the peace pipe was a symbol of defeat for Native Americans.

He says, however, “The reality is that the communal smoking of a ceremonial pipe, often filled with tobacco, is a centuries-old tradition rich in spiritual meaning for many Native people who see it as an eternal channel through which tribes seek metaphysical strength, courage and endurance.”

Today’s conflict is, “pitting the cultural power symbolized by the Native American pipe against the bruising financial power of a giant pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.”

The article describes the activities of the company and its head, Kelcy Warren.

He has been a large contributor to the political campaigns of people who have helped him get access to the land where he wants pipelines to run.

Other tribal lands with historic and religious significance have been destroyed.

Now he’s facing a large and powerful opposition at Standing Rock,

I love the conclusion of the article: “Not since the days of General George Custer has an Anglo been as surprised as Kelcy Warren by a powerful force of Indians thwarting his ambition.”

Have you followed the Standing Rock confrontation?

Visit to Grandson

Clem and I drove to Ithaca NY on the gorgeous though rainy Saturday just past.

Kenechi in the lab

Kenechi in the lab

Our mission? A visit to our grandson Kenechi, now in his senior year at Cornell.

We were able to see him at work in the lab. His project is about proteins and isolating molecules that do something specific to the proteins.

Or at least it’s related to proteins. He did explain, but I couldn’t really follow! Still, it was wonderful to see him enjoying the work.

We got to the lab around 6:30 in the evening. He had to inject a couple of samples into a machine and could then leave for dinner with us. We dropped him back the lab around 9 pm. What dedication!

The next morning we picked him up at his apartment. He shares with two other guys, and it was in just the state you’d expect!

He guided us on a drive through the lovely campus and explained the names and uses of some of the buildings.

Outside the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca

Outside the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, and after lunch!

We went to the best-known burger place in town for lunch.

We parked, by chance, next to the First Unitarian Society in Ithaca.

Kenechi spotted their Black Lives Matter banner hanging over the doorway.

So we had to have another picture!

We were thrilled to have the opportunity of a few hours with our oldest grandson.

October 21, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

The Wife in The Other Room

President Buhari’s Wife in The Other Room

President Buhari embarrassed some of his country-people last week!

President Buhari's wife Aisha, Is she in the other room?

President Buhari’s wife Aisha

He was in Germany in an effort to promote investments in Nigeria.

His wife had made a comment, saying she might not vote for him again. “She accused her husband of not knowing most of the people who have been appointed into positions of power,” Deutsche Welle said.

A reporter asked for his response as he was standing with Angela Merkel.

He said he didn’t know what political party his wife belonged to. The most memorable phrase was,”My wife belongs in the kitchen, the living room, or the other room.”

I watched the interview on Deutsche Welle. It is not impressive.

I have seen videos where he speaks well. This isn’t one.

If you are a Twitter user, you can follow comments at #Theotherroom.

Happy Recession

Adichie didn't comment on the other room, did she?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote an op-ed critical of Pres. Buhari

How do you greet your friends in Nigeria when the economy is in the tank? You wish them, “Happy recession!”

Chimamanda Adichie wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about President Buhari’s failure to capitalize on his popularity when he was elected.

When Buhari was elected, she was happy. He portrayed himself as a serious reformer. Though he had been dictatorial as head of state in the 1980’s, he was now a fan of the democratic process.

But his long delay in choosing cabinet members, his apparent tone-deafness to issues that concern so many Nigerians, and his mis-handling of the economy have disappointed her.

She says President Buhari has wasted his opportunity to generate confidence and real reform in Nigeria.

She wrote, “Nigerians who expected a fair and sweeping cleanup of corruption have been disappointed. Arrests have tended to be selective, targeting mostly those opposed to Mr. Buhari’s government.”

The most recent example is the arrest of judges. “The anti-corruption agencies are perceived not only as partisan but as brazenly flouting the rule of law: The Department of State Security recently barged into the homes of various judges at midnight, harassing and threatening them and arresting a number of them, because the judges’ lifestyles ‘suggested’ that they were corrupt.

Does Buhari have time and/or the will to change? She doesn’t seem hopeful.

Her conclusion? “There are no easy answers to Nigeria’s malaise, but the government’s intervention could be more salutary — by prioritizing infrastructure, creating a business-friendly environment and communicating to a populace mired in disappointment.”

And she shares this piece of ‘dark humor.’ “A common greeting among the middle class now is ‘Happy recession!'” she says.

Unexpected Connections

Recently I went to New Haven for lunch with Ainehi Edoro. Then I heard her engaging talk for Yale’s Council on African Studies.

Afterwards, Stephanie Newell, Professor of English at the Council on African Studies and one of the organizers of the talk, invited me to join her, Ainehi and a few students for dinner.

I learned that Steph, as she calls herself, has spent time in Lagos and Onitsha, the largest city in eastern Nigeria.

Her bio says, “My research focuses on the public sphere in colonial West Africa and issues of gender, sexuality, and power as articulated through popular print cultures, including newspapers, pamphlets, posters, and magazines.”

I am especially interested in the cultural histories of printing and reading in Africa, and the spaces for local creativity and subversive resistance in colonial-era newspapers.”

As part of her research she has studied and written about Onitsha Market Literature. I became familiar with the genre a year ago when I met Kurt Thometz. He has compiled a book of examples. The literature flourished from the 1940’s until the Biafran secession in 1967.

The Forger's Tale by Stephanie Newell

The Forger’s Tale by Stephanie Newell

I learned that Steph has published a book about the man Thometz calls, “Onitsha’s adopted son, the ‘Ubiquitous Coaster’ and palm-oil ruffian John Moray Stuart-Young.”

The Forger’s Tale, The Search for Odeziaku is her book.

In it, she “charts the story of the English novelist and poet John Moray Stuart-Young (1881-1939) as he traveled from the slums of Manchester to West Africa in order to escape the homophobic prejudices of late-Victorian society. Leaving behind a criminal record for forgery and embezzlement and his notoriety as a “spirit rapper,” Stuart-Young found a new identity as a wealthy palm oil trader and a celebrated author, known to Nigerians as ‘Odeziaku.’”

I showed my husband Clem the picture on the front.

He remembered the man. He recalled the name. He had seen his mansion and another property in Onitsha that belonged to him. But he didn’t ever see the man himself!

He was six or seven when the Englishman died. To find that there was a whole book about him was intriguing for Clem. He said he’d like to meet the woman who wrote it!

Monopoly in Lagos

Monopoly, City of Lagos edition

Monopoly, City of Lagos edition

The New York Times had a piece a couple of days ago about a monopoly tournament in Lagos.

Board games are popular in Nigeria. Our children played ayo, a game involving dropping seeds into holes on a board, or on the ground as it’s often played. The goal is to get the most seeds.

“And the nation’s prowess at Scrabble went global this year when a Nigerian player, Wellington Jighere, captured the world championship,” the article reminded us.

“’The key to winning is just to have determination,’ said Elizabeth Braimoh, 13, the official winner and a student at Topfield College.”

The real estate market in Nigeria is chaotic, just as the tournament was. “Buying property is a tangled affair, plagued by bribery, scams and even machete-wielding gangsters,” the authors of the article said. You can read fascinating stories here.

I have the Lagos Monopoly game – come and play!

October 17, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Brilliant Words from Michelle Obama

Michelle Speaking Out

CNN had this picture of Michelle Obama speaking out on Thursday

CNN had this picture of Michelle Obama speaking out on Thursday

On Thursday last week Michelle Obama spoke out about Donald Trump’s disgraceful comments. I’d heard snippets. I’ve just read her whole speech.

It’s amazing.

Frank Bruni commented, “First at the Democratic convention in late July and then in New Hampshire on Thursday, she embodied the nation’s conscience and staked her claim as the most earnest guardian of our most important values.”

He believes she has provided the final death blow to Trump’s campaign, he said in yesterday’s New York Times opinion piece.

She spoke about the celebration at the White House two days earlier for the International Day of the Girl. She also held her final “Let Girls Learn” event as First Lady. She said she was inspired by girls from around the world.

“See,” she said, “many of these girls have faced unthinkable obstacles just to attend school, jeopardizing their personal safety, their freedom, risking the rejection of their families and communities.”

Emma Watson with two girl students in Malawi

Emma Watson, UNWomen Ambassador, with two girl students in Malawi for International Day of the Girl

She wanted them to understand, “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.”

The comments by a candidate for President of the United States were so demeaning she wouldn’t repeat them. She was hurt by the comments, she said, and couldn’t ignore them.

“It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. Because this was not just a ‘lewd conversation.’ This wasn’t just locker-room banter.”

If you haven’t heard or read the speech, please do. The LA Times has the transcript, with a few excerpts in video. You can find it in other media too.

Or you can watch on YouTube. You can skip the first two minutes of applause, thank you’s, and other niceties if you want, though they provide a great warm-up.

Thank You, Michelle

In my blog and in public I write and speak about building community. I belive creating a sense of belonging among Americans is an act against racism.

I think of Martin Luther King’s words, “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He continued, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Delivered at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on 31 March 1968. Congressional Record, 9 April 1968.

In this inescapable network, we are responsible for each other. That’s why Michelle was right to call out the candidate for his attitude toward women. She was caring for all women.

Thank you, Michelle, for speaking so powerfully.

I’m one of thousands, even millions, thanking Michelle, not just for this speech but for her example. Four well-known people sent thank you notes that were printed in Sunday’s Style section of The New York Times.

The first came from Chimamanda Adichie. She described listening to Michelle in 2008. Then she contrasted that with her 2016 convention speech.

At this point Michelle spoke more freely. “She said ‘black boy’ and ‘slaves,’ words she would not have said eight years ago because eight years ago any concrete gesturing to blackness would have had real consequences.”

Chimamanda says, “She threw open the White House doors to people on the margins of America. She was working class, and she was Princeton, and so she could speak of opportunity as a tangible thing.”

Gloria Steinem sent a thank you to Michelle Obama for speaking out

Gloria Steinem sent a thank you to Michelle Obama for speaking out

Gloria Steinem sent the second thank you, another wonderful letter.

She closed with, “Though I’m old enough to remember Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House . . I have never seen such balance and equal parenting, such love, respect, mutuality and pleasure in each other’s company. We will never have a democracy until we have democratic families and a society without the invented categories of both race and gender. Michelle Obama may have changed history in the most powerful way — by example.”

Jon Meacham sent the third, but you’ll have to read that yourself!

The last letter is from Rashida Jones.

I would guess that some of my readers are saying, “Who?” as I did! She’s a writer, actor, and producer.

Rashida Jones sent a thank you

Rashida Jones sent a thank you to Michelle

“If feminism’s goal is equal opportunity and choice, Michelle makes me feel like every choice is available. You can go to Princeton and Harvard . . you can be a mother and a lawyer and a powerful orator. You can champion the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while also caring about fashion. You can dance with Ellen and also fearlessly remind people, on live television, of the reality of your position: ‘I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.’”

Another exciting week!

October 13, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Twenty one Chibok Girls Released!

21 Chibok Girls Released 

There will surely be drama now about released Chibok girls

Drama about Chibok Girls in a Nigerian school last year.

Twenty one of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram two and a half years ago were released yesterday!

CNN carried a report, as did many Nigerian newspapers.

The Nigerian government says negotiations have been going on for many months. No captured Boko Haram fighters were exchanged for the girls, they said.

CameroonOnline reported a statement from the Nigerian government.

”The release of the girls in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue,”’ the statement said.

MSN also reported the news. You can watch a brief video here.

As the reporter says, it’s not clear why Boko Haram would have released these girls now. She says it may be a result of in-fighting between two Boko Haram factions.

Chimamanda’s 15 Suggestions on Being Feminist

Chimamanda in Vogue

Chimamanda in Vogue last year

This morning I woke up to a post on Brittle Paper with Chimamanda Adichie’s 9000+ brilliant words on being feminist.

As the blogger Ainehi Edoro said, everyone should read this.

Adichie lays out her fifteen suggestions in the form of a letter to a friend. The friend, she implies, asked for her advice on how to raise her day-old daughter feminist.

“I understand what you mean by not always knowing what the feminist response to situations should be. For me, feminism is always contextual. I don’t have a set-in-stone rule; the closest I have to a formula are my two ‘Feminist Tools’ and I want to share them with you as a starting point.”

The first is your premise. . . Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”

The second tool is a question: can you reverse X and get the same results?”

She says as long as decisions are not based on gender inequality, they can be feminist choices.

I can imagine an example: you and your husband decide to move for your husband’s job offer. If the role’s were reversed and you – the woman – had the job offer, would you move for that?

Obviously there are lots of other factors to consider. But on principle, if the decision is about those factors, not that you’re moving because he’s the man, it can be a feminist choice.

You’ll find her example when you read her piece!

Brittle Paper Comes to Life

Ainehi Edoro at Yale

Ainehi Edoro speaking, by sign, our selfie, at Yale

Yesterday I went to New Haven to meet Brittle Paper’s creator, Ainehi Edoro.

She was speaking for the Yale Council on African Studies. I’m on their mailing list, so saw her name last month.

She and I have corresponded. We follow each others’ blogs. We’ve interviewed each other.

It was time to meet! She suggested lunch before the talk. We shared information while we got better acquainted over a delicious Indian lunch.

Her talk was fascinating and really well-presented. She knows African literature inside out!

I joined the group that went to dinner after the talk, met a couple of faculty members and some students.

Is Self-sufficiency Realistic?

President Buhari spoke for the opening of the 22nd Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja recently. He urged the participants to consider how to make the country self-sufficient in food and other goods.

He called this self-sufficiency his greatest desire.

Can Nigerian agriculture recover so the country can again be an exporter?

Cotton growing in California. Could Nigeria compete?

Cotton growing in California. Could Nigeria compete?

Britain saw value in Nigerian products centuries ago. British traders were attracted by slaves first. But after outlawing the slave trade, they exported cotton, timber, groundnuts (peanuts), and palm oil. They exploited these goods for their own profit.

Can Farmers Turn a Profit?

Can’t Nigerian farmers today turn a profit on these crops? The sun and the rain are still there, the farmland is there. Plenty of laborers are available. But farming has to be respectable or young people won’t do it!

Can it be made respectable without capital investment? Do they need expensive imported machinery? They are so many unemployed men and women who can do the work.

Other Thoughts on Self-Sufficiency

If you live near me, you probably know of Ebong Udoma, WHSU’s award-winning senior political reporter. His brother is Nigeria’s Minister of Budget and Planning.

He spoke at the same event as Buhari.

He said, “Government agencies will work with the private sector to support research with a view to developing high quality indigenous products and technologies.’’

But do they need research? Nigerian farmers have known how to grow yams, cassava, rice, and other crops for centuries.

Yes, there could be improvements. But they don’t need to wait for research! The farmers need to get the seeds, or in the case of yams, seed yams. They need to hire laborers and pay them.

That’s where government help would be important. Farmers will need support until the crops are sold.

And the farmers who undertake the effort need to know they can get a reasonable price for their goods. Local companies will have to be encouraged to buy locally.

Markets are already vibrant places and could be leaders in turning away from imported goods.

Not easy for sure. But could it be done? Can Nigeria have a thriving agricultural sector?

Chicken in the Kitchen, a story of Igbo masquerades.

Chicken in the Kitchen, a story of Igbo masquerades.

An Award for Chicken in the Kitchen

Remember the book Chicken in the Kitchen I’ve mentioned before? Lantana Publishing announced today that the book was “Winner of the Children’s Africana Best Book Award 2016.”


Huge congratulations to the publisher, author Nnedi Okorafor, and illustrator Mehrdokht Amini.


October 9, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Wole Soyinka Nobel Laureate 1986

Wole Soyinka

On Friday evening Clem and I joined our friend Ruth Omabegho for an evening in New York. We enjoyed plantain, chicken, steak, sweet potato fries, and coconut flan at a lovely Cuban restaurant.

Then we headed to NYU for “Wole Soyinka in Conversation with Taiye Selasi.”

The Institute of African American Affairs of NYU where Wole Soyinka is “Scholar-in-Residence” presented the event.

You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka memoir which I read on train

Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and essayist, won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African to do so. It’s been years since I read his work. I bought his memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn,  and read it on the train going in.

Selasi is a Nigerian/Ghanaian author and photographer. I thoroughly enjoyed her novel Ghana Must Go

Their conversation was moderated by Awam Amkpa, Associate Professor of Drama, Africana Studies, and Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU.

Their rather esoteric topic – “identity and creativity at home and abroad” – actually led to fascinating dialogue.

They both spoke about ‘shape-shifting.’ Being at home in more than one place gives a writer a broader canvas, they said.

What does African authenticity mean? they asked.

In partial answer, Selasi said for years she felt,”not Nigerian, not Ghanaian, because I didn’t speak the languages of my Nigerian mother or Ghanaian father fluently.” People continually told her she wasn’t fully of their tribe or country for her lack of the language.

Taiye Selasi was in conversation with Wole Soyinka

Taiye Selasi was in conversation with Wole Soyinka

Today she defines herself by her own feeling of belonging and doesn’t let others place an identity, or non-identity, on her.

She made me think of our children who don’t speak Igbo. Do they believe they are Igbo? I think so. I’ll wait to see if they respond! They are also American. Double identity, not a lack of identity!

Selasi made us all laugh when she responded to the accusation that Nigerians are too proud. She said, “We Nigerians have big heads because we have big brains!” She said she’d heard this remark, not claiming it for herself!

She and Soyinka agreed that Africans in the diaspora are “heir to so much.” Although there is great richness in the diaspora, they want a way to move forward as Africans who can be at home in their own places.

“We are stymied,” Soyinka said, “by the complete failure of leadership.”

You can see and hear Soyinka reading his poetry in this video from the Nobel Prize organization.

Question Time

When it came to time for questions, one audience member said, “I am a Black American. I have known Africans who condescended to me because I couldn’t trace my line directly to a tribe in Africa.”

My husband was sitting next to me. He has at times been one of those condescending Africans! Not to her, but to others, and not publicly, but in his mind! He said later he was happy to know he was not alone!

I was undecided about whether to join the queue to ask a question. I finally stood up just before they closed the line!

I said, “I was one of those Peace Corps volunteers in Nigeria you [Soyinka] mentioned earlier. I stayed for 24 years altogether, and found the sense of community amazing. How can African writers help the West learn the power of belonging, being in community?”

Selasi answered. She said, “That’s a wonderful question! We must learn to appreciate the sense of belonging among ourselves first. We need to see it as a strength in each other. Then we can share it with others.”

UN New Secretary General Not a Woman

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The United Nations has selected their next leader. Ban Ki-Moon’s term ends in December.

Antonio Guterres, newly appointed UN Secretary General

Antonio Guterres, newly appointed UN Secretary General

Several women were in the running. For the first time, the process was transparent. Votes were taken by members of the general assembly to see who would emerge as a winner.

This past week Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was named as the next UN Secretary General.

I’ve read several positive reviews of the decision. Maybe a woman next time?

Black Lives Matter Banner

This morning at The Unitarian Church in Westport we celebrated the installation of our Black Lives Matter banner. It will be up on Lyons Plains Road.

I was one of those who carried the banner into the foyer where we held the ceremony.

I'm carrying the banner with colleagues

Six of us are carrying the banner. Can you see me? I’m almost hidden.

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse welcomed everyone. He introduced the speakers.

  • Harold Bailey, Chairperson of TEAM Westport
  • Rev. Cass Shaw, President and CEO of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport
  • Rev. Alison Patton, Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport
  • Michael Dunn representing Congressman Jim Himes
  • Westport State Senator Toni Boucher
  • Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe

The rabbi from the temple next door was there too.

Rev. John said that we shouldn’t think of Black Lives Matter as meaning that other lives don’t! But it’s time, as he said, to rectify more than 250 years when black lives didn’t matter in this country.

When black lives matter as much as white lives, then we will no longer need to say Black Lives Matter.

October 5, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Four Small World Occurrences

Small World Occurrence Number 1

Since Oct. 1, Nigeria’s Independence Day, fell on a Saturday, the country declared Monday a holiday. People like a day off work.

Of course that’s only relevant for the Nigerians who are fortunate to be employed. It wouldn’t necessarily pertain to all the traders, small business people, or self-employed professionals.

My guess is that the government employees who make the decision are the real beneficiaries!

But President Buhari was busy on Monday! He was at the launch of his biography, “Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenge of Leadership in Nigeria.”

The author John Paden, was present. He is Clarence Robinson Professor of International Studies at George Mason University. 

He and Buhari have known each other for years according to Paden was on the faculty of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, and also Bayero in Kano.

President Buhari and Professor John Paden the occasion for my first small world occurrence

President Buhari and Professor John Paden

During Buhari’s first visit to the U.S. after his election, he stayed at Blair House where there was a dinner with Madeleine Albright.

The picture shows Buhari at Blair House with Professor Paden. It’s from the article in AllAfrica.

I wonder if that’s where the idea for the biography was hatched.

Shaking Albright

I have to share with you the caption on another photo from the same article. It shows President Buhari shaking hands with Madeleine Albright. It says, “President Buhari Shakes Madeleine Albright.”

I’ve become used to this version of the expression ‘shaking hands’ over the years, but it still makes me smile. It’s best of all in writing!

More on John Paden

In 2008 the Institute of Peace published his book, Faith and Politics in Nigeria: Nigeria as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World.  On their website they say, “John Paden provides a much needed focus on African experience.” They call him “America’s foremost expert on Islam in Nigeria.”

Occasion of my first small world occurrence

Faith and Politics . . . I couldn’t find a picture of the new biography!

In that book, he “provides an analysis of how Nigeria, with the world’s fifth largest Muslim population and at the same time an equally large Christian population, has mastered the task of keeping the country together and most recently managing a transition to elected democratic rule. . .”

He sounds like a great cheerleader for Nigeria.

I found on the Institute of Peace website that he has been an international observer in three Nigerian presidential elections.

What Was My Small World Occurrence #1?

At the book launch four people with powerful credentials reviewed the book for the audience. Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, was one of the four.

Sani Tukur, author of the All Africa article about the book launch, wrote, “[Campbell] said the US has always been paying attention to Nigeria, especially in the area of oil and gas as well as peacemaking efforts across Africa. He said Mr. Buhari has always been involved in both projects.”

“He also commended Mr. Buhari for his ‘deep concern for female education’ and his consistent patriotism both as a military officer and later Head of State.”

We heard Ambassador Campbell speak in Washington DC on September 22. We were at the Friends of Nigeria day, preceding the overall former Peace Corps conference. I didn’t write about him then – there was too much else to tell!

Campbell also had praised Buhari in his DC talk, saying, “He has a deep abiding respect to provide care for the poor.” Perhaps he was warming up for his appearance in Abuja!

Second Small World Occurrence

In the same piece about the book launch I found that a second person I know was one of the four reviewers!

“A former Nigerian permanent representative to the United Nations, Ibrahim Gambari who also served as Nigeria’s foreign Minister under Mr. Buhari, took time to brief the audience about the humorous nature of the president.”

When Gambari was at the UN, I spoke with him by phone more than once. I was then President of the Unitarian-Universalist UN Office, UU-UNO. But I can’t remember why I called him!

Third Small World Occurrence

On our last day in Washington we walked by the new National Museum of African American History & Culture.

My "granddaughter" Chiedza from LinkedIn

My “granddaughter” Chiedza from LinkedIn

Back in Westport after our Washington trip I received a postcard from Chiedza Mufunde.

Chiedza was my Mount Holyoke “granddaughter.” She’s from Zimbabwe.

She was a member of the graduating class the year of our 50th reunion. We “adopted” our granddaughters then! We’ve  stayed in touch.

Her home is now in DC. She’s at the World Bank. Her postcard was a picture of the museum. She said, “I thought of you as I walked on the grounds of this deeply historical new museum.”

She was there the day before I was! I hope to see her next time I go. I do want to go, so I can see the inside of the museum!

And Fourth Small World Occurrence  

Our sons Chinaku and Sam attended the 50th birthday party for their friend Aigboje in London.

A couple of days later Aigboje and his wife were honored at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. They signed the documents for their sponsorship of five scholarships for students from Ghana and Nigeria.

The awards are for people working in the public sector. The awardees must commit to return to their public sector for five years!

Imagine sharing the stage with Kofi Annan! You can skip ahead to see Aigboje, at about minute 4.

As I read more about the program and the scholarships, I found that my friend and classmate from the Yale School of Management, Ken Ofori-Atta, is on Aigboje’s panel of advisors!

The bios of these two outstanding gentlemen are so impressive! You can check them out here. They are really eager to see progress in their two countries.

I’m thrilled to know them both.

What is your recent ‘small world’ experience?

October 1, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe
Comments Off on Nigerian Independence Day

Nigerian Independence Day

Nigerian Independence Day

Flag celebrates Nigerian Independence

Flag of Nigeria

Nigerian Independence Day is October 1st! Today marks Nigeria’s 56th anniversary of independence from Britain.

In 1960 the Queen’s representative Princess Anne graced the handover celebrations. Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa took over as independent Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.

But instead of being in celebratory mood, the country is in an unhappy state.

Officially in recession, the country faces the deep decline in the price of oil.

There is also the Delta insurgency.

gas flaring harms environment even in Nigerian Indpendence

Gas flares in Nigeria

People in the Delta area are protesting the degradation of their land due to oil drilling. They want some recompense from the oil companies and/or the government.

Corruption is not completely tamed. Efficiency is still elusive.

The Naira is now trading near 500 to a dollar, an all-time low. Our son just told us on the phone there is severe difficulty in getting foreign exchange. He had planned a visit to the U.S. soon, but will wait.

The International Business Times says, “As Africa’s most populous country and largest economy celebrates 56 years of independence from British rule on Saturday, many Nigerian nationals are using the occasion to bash their government over allegations of corruption, greed and ineffectiveness.”

I was surprised to see the name Buhari in the first comment on the article. President Buhari’s daughter said: “ and my dad is still using ‘trial and error’ in ruling the country. This makes me feel so sad.”

Meanwhile, Clem and I will celebrate Nigerian Independence with champagne. I’m singing in Threads of Light, a collage of African American music by Ellen Dickenson who is conducting.

Afterwards friends will join us to toast Nigerian independence, even in its difficulties. I need to run out soon to buy the champagne!

Nigeria’s Third Conflict

The oil price decline and the continued protests in the Delta are not all the country faces!

The Economist blog, The Economist Explains, says“The Nigerian army is already fighting Boko Haram’s jihadists in the north-east and the so-called “Niger Delta Avengers” in the oil-producing south.”

So what is Nigeria’s third conflict and what sustains it?”

The writer describes Nigeria’s third conflict, between Fulani cattle herders and land owners.

The Fulani graze their cattle across northern Nigeria and into the middle part of the country. They drive their cattle south, even as far as Lagos, to sell.

Fulani herder and cattle

A Fulani herdsman waters his cattle in Nigeria May 7, 2015. EMMANUEL AREWA/AFP/Getty Images)

I used to see the young herders and their cattle on the road to Ojo, the Yoruba village where I taught part-time when I was a Peace Corps volunteer.

Today there is less land available for cattle grazing. The far north is drier, the Boko Haram have overtaken a portion of the land the Fulani used, and population has grown.

The author of the piece explains: “Grazing corridors and reserves used to be set aside for the Fulani, who hail from the Sahel and drive their cattle south each year. But the land was swallowed up as the population grew and as the government lost interest in taxing livestock (crude proved more lucrative than cows).

Cattle routes have been neglected and overrun. Yes, of course, cattle trample farmland, but that land used to be their ‘road.’

How the country will solve this conflict between Fulani herdsmen and residents and farmers in the rest of the country is an open question.

Lagos International Trade Fair

On November 4th President Buhari will open the 2016 Lagos International Trade Fair.

President Buhari at end of his first year

President Buhari at end of his first year

When I read about it in The Nation, I was reminded of the International Trade Fair on Victoria Island in 1962!

That fair was open when I arrived in the country for the first time. Our Peace Corps group stayed in the Legislative Assembly apartments which were opposite the international trade fair.

After the fair ended, the American International School, AIS, opened in that site. I taught there for nearly two years until we fled Lagos for the East at the lead-up to the Biafran War. I went back after the war for another few years.

This year’s fair has the theme “Positioning the Nigerian economy for diversification and sustainable growth.”

The organisers said this theme would, “explore management mechanics of achieving sustainable growth in the pursuit of diversification.”  A lofty goal, difficult, but worthwhile to aim for!

“The Chairman, Trade Promotion Board, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Sola Oyetayo, said the recession may not affect participation in the fair,” I read in the article.

He also said that, “over 500,000 attendants, 2,000 exhibitors from 22 states and 200 foreign ones were expected from 15 countries including China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa, among others.”

“Oyetayo said the fair would focus on all sectors of the economy through promotion of partnerships and critical interventions.”

The International Trade Fair will take place in two locations –  Tafawa Balewa Square near the center of town, and the Eko Hotel on Victoria Island.

If you visit, let me know what you see!


September 27, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Peace Corps Friends and Family

Walk for Peace with Peace Corps friends

Walk for Peace with Peace Corps friends. Look closely – you’ll see Clem and me.

Peace Corps Friends and Family

We had a wonderful few days in Washington DC with Peace Corps friends.

I loved it all, but my favorite was the final event.

The Walk for Peace started at George Washington University where the conference was held, and ended at the Capitol.

Motorcycle policeman holding back traffic for us

Motorcycle policeman holding back traffic for us

With our Peace Corps friends, we cheered, chatted, and stopped for photos along the way.

Police on motorcycles lined the route, holding back traffic so we could pass.

Memoir Writing Panel

The events started with the memoir writers’ panel on Wednesday afternoon.

Marian Haley Beil runs Peace Corps Writers with John Coyne. She organized five of us Peace Corps friends to talk about our books and writing process. We had an audience of 35 or 40 people, twice.

Peace Corps friends hear about memoir writing

Audience for the memoir writing panel.

Several times later in the conference people came up to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation on the panel!

Peace Corps Friends from Long Ago

Peace Corps friends

Bob Wynne with his wife Sandy and me

Back at our hotel we ran into Peace Corps friends from my training group. We spent the summer of 1962 together at UCLA learning about each other and about Nigeria.

Seeing Peace Corps friends from that time is always a highlight. Wednesday evening it was Chuck, Bob, Ginny, and me.

Teaching African Literature

We saw Chuck Larson, also from our group, at the all-day program for Friends of Nigeria on Thursday. He spoke about teaching African literature for 50 years.

When he first wanted to teach African literature, he said, he met considerable resistance. He believes his course on that topic at the University of Colorado in the mid 1960’s was the first in the country.

He said the classic Things Fall Apart sells at least a hundred thousand copies a year in the US but only one thousand in Nigeria. How sad!

Amaka Anku, a Nigerian lawyer and emerging market analyst, spoke about President Buhari’s first months in office. She believes that the Delta Insurgency is as much to blame for Nigeria’s current recession as the low oil price.

Liberian Crisis and an Award

On Friday the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, presented an award and made a speech. She praised Peace Corps volunteers, saying “All of the beneficiary countries’ people regard you so highly!”

I was intrigued by her use of the term “disease” for the crisis Liberia experienced in the last two years. Peace Corps volunteers were withdrawn, but have now returned. She never said the name “Ebola.”

Sirleaf was chosen to present the award because she has been a major proponent of girls’ education. The award was to former volunteer and professor Sara Goodkind.

Ibrahima Sankare of Mali also received an award

Ibrahima Sankare of Mali also received an award for his work on education and health care. My friend peace activist Chic Damback is behind Sankare.

She was the founder of Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camps.

She found that girls in Romania where she was teaching did not have many leadership opportunities.

“Obtaining $1,500 from the U.S. Democracy Commission, she and two other volunteers and some Romanian teachers took 81 girls to an eight-day camp in the Transylvania Mountains . . . The Peace Corps liked the idea and has asked her to make presentations . . .so others could replicate it.”

In her acceptance speech she said, “We don’t know the consequences of our actions.”

Her comment made me think of Nigerwives. How has the organization helped women in Nigeria in ways I don’t even know?

The New Museum

We drove by the new National Museum of African American History and Culture a couple of times during the conference.

Every time the museum was mentioned, I said that my friend Judy had donated items, been to the donors’ reception, and had an article in The Washington Post about her!

Then on Monday morning Clem had an appointment at the Department of Commerce. I went with him.

The new Museum of African American History & Culture

The new Museum of African American History & Culture

We were right across the street from the museum. It’s beautiful. I’m eager to see the inside!

Michelle Alexander to be Visiting Professor

My friend and TEAM Westport colleague Dolores sent an email about Michelle Alexander. She is leaving Ohio State University to take up a position at Union Theological Seminary.

Alexander is best known for her book The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnes.

In the press release we learn her reasons for the change. “A very strong reason I am so attracted to the community at Union,” explained Michelle Alexander, “is that I believe the experience will enable me to clarify my spiritual beliefs, deepen my understanding of systematic theology, and expand my thinking about the possibilities for prophetic advocacy and movement-building across faiths, races, and cultures.”

She continued, “I would like to imagine that a wide range of people of faith and conscience who sing songs from different keys may be able to join in a common chorus that shakes the foundations of our unjust political, legal and economics systems, and ushers in a new America.”

I love her music metaphor as she expresses her dreams.

I read later in the press release that she is writing two books. I’m eager to read the personal reflection, one of the books.

But there’s more! In addition, “. . .she will serve as primary editor of a book planned for Fall 2018, which will be organized as a collection of essays, sermons, speeches, and thought pieces from justice advocates and faith leaders from a wide range of backgrounds.”

Would she take something I write? Will I try to submit? Advice welcome!

September 19, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Igbo Marriage Rites Full of Tradition, Modified!

Chidi’s Igbo Marriage

Igbo marriage rites were in full swing when my husband Clem went to Hemet, California, for the wedding of his nephew Chidi.

Other African customs were in play too. Clem’s younger brother Godwin, Chidi’s dad, died a few years ago. So Clem is the stand-in father. As he said, “I have no choice. I have to go!”

Would that be a requirement, not an option, for the oldest American uncle if his brother had passed on?

Clem and I, with our daughter Beth, had gone to the earlier Igbo marriage event, Iku Aka Na Uzo, or knocking on the door, in June. That’s when the bride ‘accepts’ her groom.

Igbo marriage. Chidi and his bride at traditional ceremony

Igbo marriage. Chidi and his bride dressed for the traditional ceremony Igba Nkwu.

The traditional Igbo marriage itself is called Igba Nkwu – carrying palm wine. Clem traveled Thursday to make sure he wouldn’t miss the September 9 event in Hemet, California on Friday afternoon.

The bride’s father and uncle had given the groom Chidi a list of requirements. It’s called “Inu-mmanya by Onitsha Non-Indegene, Requirements in accordance with marriages and other customary matters in Onitsha.”

This modern manifestation of the traditional bride price filled one and a half pages, with nineteen different recipients, each with specified gifts. Clem says some of the items, and the title, are in “Onitsha Igbo.” It is a different dialect from his own town’s Igbo. We say nkwu for palm wine, though we also use their word mmanya.

Coming into reception as part of Igbo marriage

Coming into reception as part of Igbo marriage

Most of the gifts are bottles of gin or Schnapps, pots of palm wine, kola nuts, Star beer, and cash.

Number 12, “Ekene Idu Nata Uno,” specifies “Four heads of tobacco” along with four pots of palm wine, 120 kola nuts, and 200 Naira. I’m guessing these are gifts to be taken to those who stayed at home. If I’m wrong, maybe one of you can correct me!

The Umunna – the primary unit of an Igbo man’s identity on his father’s side – get specific gifts, as do the Umunne, the mother’s lineage group.

For each gift the Naira cash value is given. Particularly when the Igbo marriage is taking place in the U.S., cash is perfectly acceptable. It would after all be difficult if not impossible to secure palm wine, kola nuts, and Star beer in the vicinity of Hemet, California.

At the event, Clem tells me, the hosts, that is, the bride’s family, served kola and drinks, and then a meal. After that, Chidi presented his gifts, all in cash. It must have been close to 100,000 Naira, or around $400.

Celebrating Igbo marriage at the reception

Daughter Beth on left, with cousin Nonso on right, and Nonso’s daughter

I recall a list nearly as extensive from our son Sam’s in-laws when we held his traditional wedding to Onome.

Our daughter Beth flew from Philadelphia for the ‘white’ wedding on Saturday and the reception that followed. She said, “Daddy and I got there just before 2 pm, the time on the invitation. But no one was around!” Sounds like an Igbo marriage!

The wedding began closer to 3, and the reception followed. Beth said there was lots of dancing but no speeches. Clem didn’t even get a chance to deliver the words of wisdom he’d prepared!

President Buhari at UN

The UN General Assembly opened today September 19 with a focus on refugees and migrants. President Buhari took his place with other heads of state for today’s session.

As planned, the General Assembly approved the declaration which had been prepared over the last many months. It’s called the New York Declaration.

According to Nigeria’s Channels TV, “Highlights of the New York Declaration are commitments to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions.”

Ensuring access to education for refugee children and ending xenophobia are major parts of the declaration.

Meanwhile, it seems that President Buhari’s speech writer recently fell into a similar trap as Trump’s!

President Buhari at end of his first year

President Buhari at end of his first year

The occasion was a speech on September 8 when Buhari began a campaign, “Change Begins With Me.”

“The campaign promotes a new way of thinking to rid Nigeria of widespread corruption,” the Associated Press said in a report from NBC News.

“Buhari said, ‘We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long. Let us summon a new spirit of responsibility, spirit of service, of patriotism and sacrifice. Let us all resolve to pitch in and work hard and look after, not only ourselves, but one another.'”

And what had Obama said in his victory speech in 2008? “So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. … Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

Buhari and Obama will meet in New York on Tuesday for conversation about Boko Haram and the Nigerian economy. On Wednesday Buhari will participate in U.S.-Nigeria trade talks. Let’s hope for success in all his meetings. More trade would be good, as would more assistance with defeating Boko Haram.

Peace Corps Beyond

I think I told you Clem and I are going to Washington DC for Peace Corps Beyond, the gathering of former Peace Corps volunteers. I’m mentioning it again to say it’s quite possible there will be no post, or a very brief one, on Sept. 23, the next Afo.

Meanwhile enjoy the first week of autumn in our northern hemisphere.

September 15, 2016
by Catherine Onyemelukwe

Refugees and Migrants at the UN

High Level Summit for Refugees and Migrants

Yesterday in beautiful late summer weather, I met my friend Marilyn in New York. After lunch at Le Pain Quotidien we went to a panel on refugees and migrants hosted by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women.

Curry chicken tartine - delicious!

Curry chicken tartine – delicious!

It was held in preparation for the High Level Summit for Refugees and Migrants on Monday at the UN.

“At the General Assembly Heads of State and Governments will come together at the first-ever high-level summit for refugees and migrants to discuss a ‘Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration’ and a ‘Global Compact on Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees’,” as UN Women says.

UN Women’s Deputy Director Lakshmi Puri was invited but couldn’t come. In her place was Meg Jones, Chief of Economic Empowerment at UN Women.

Meg Jones at panel on refugees and migrants

Meg Jones speaking at panel on refugees and migrants

She made a strong case for paying attention to UN speeches. When our own UN Ambassador takes the floor and speaks on upholding the rights of women and girls, we should write to thank her. That thank you, Meg said, may get back to others in government, and can help! Wise advice.

Meg had to leave right after delivering her remarks. She asked Andrea Milan, Programme Analyst – Migration, from her Economic Empowerment Section, to fill in for her to answer questions.

Eva Richter, treasurer of the NGO Committee on Refugees, and a representative of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, gave background. She was part of the group preparing the Outcomes Statement, recently completed.

The UN General Assembly High Level Meeting will use this statement and its appendices. As I understand, they will build their ‘global compact’ on refugees and migrants using these.

Andrea Milan and me after panel on refugees and migrants

Andrea Milan and me after panel on refugees and migrants

For Monday’s General Assembly, the list of speakers includes 65 names! Even if each speaks for four minutes, that’s 260 minutes, or more than 4 hours.

And there must be time for each person to get to the podium.

Long Overdue Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is opening this weekend. Our country is long overdue for this recognition of our collective history!

I knew I would like to visit though I didn’t feel a personal connection. But a few days ago that changed.

My friend Judy who is African-American told our Sister Grandmas that she and her husband have been invited to a donor’s reception on Friday. Her family gave a collection of photos and letters.

Now I am more connected! When I do go, I’ll look for their donation.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Museum’s website says, “The historic significance of the newest and 19th Smithsonian museum – and its importance to all Americans – will make [its opening] an unprecedented local, national and international event unlike any other opening of a cultural institution in America or globally in recent memory.”

I agree – this is the history of our country!

For how long have we white Americans expected African-Americans and Native Americans to look at the history of pilgrims, early political leaders, and 19th century industrialists as ‘our common history’?

I can see myself in representations of white settlers, pioneer women, or early 20th century immigrants. Can a Black woman say that?

I thought we might visit on September 26. We’ll still be in DC after the Peace Corps convention. But the museum website says they are taking timed ticket requests for November and December now.

The New York Times has a wonderful introduction.

Former Slave’s Letter

Another friend, Sonja, sent this link to a letter from a former slave.

It’s exquisite! You can also read what is known of the history of the man who wrote it, Jordan Anderson.

I hope there are more documents like this in the new museum, though I doubt any other will be so well-expressed!

Connecticut Judge Rules on School Funding

The disparity in funding for schools in the state of Connecticut has been an issue for many years.

Sheff vs. O’Neill is the most famous case, decided in 1996 by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Night heron photographed by my cousin Thomas Thompson

Night heron photographed by my cousin Thomas Thompson

“The  Court ruled that the conditions of segregation and racial isolation in the Hartford schools violated the state’s affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut’s school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity under the Connecticut Constitution,” according to the Sheff Movement.

There have been changes in schools in Hartford, the state capitol, but much of the state remains in dire straits for school funding.

Westport where we live has a strong tax base which funds education. The large city next door, Bridgeport, does not. It was a manufacturing city but no longer has many factories. Unemployment is high. Its schools are poor.

Now there is a new judgement. It came in response to a lawsuit that claimed that the reliance on property taxes unfairly burdens poorer towns and cities.

“Too many American high school graduates are ‘let down by patronizing and illusory degrees,’ Judge Moukawsher wrote,” according to The New York Times. He said the state must have a new plan within 180 days.

And An Appeal

No surprise – State Attorney General George Jepsen has appealed directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the state Appellate Court. He is challenging only part of the ruling. He says it that takes too much authority away from state and local officials.

At least he recognizes the need. “Nevertheless, the ruling identified profound educational challenges that remain and must continue to receive serious and sustained attention – and action – at every level of government, ” he says.

If you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal you can read more here, though only about the ruling, not the appeal.