Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

12 Malls for 180 Million People?

Martin Luther King Day

Dan Woog writes the blog 06880. He blogs on all things Westport, Connecticut, or all things Westport that interest him, and his interests range widely! Yesterday on Martin Luther King Day he re-posted a piece from a year ago. Even though it is a story about King and Westport, it speaks to the wider world.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Woog says King was invited to speak at Westport’s Temple Israel in May 1964. “King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled ‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.’ He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also ‘slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.’”

A few weeks later the rabbi of the temple went south to participate in a nonviolent civil rights march. He was arrested with King.

After King’s assassination four years later, students of the Westport high school held a vigil. Their vice principal addressed them. “Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words ‘my people’ made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America,” Woog says.

I was sorry to miss the Sunday afternoon MLK Day event presented by the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, Team Westport & Westport Country Playhouse. I know Serendipity Chorale was to sing, and Harold Bailey, our TEAM Westport chair, was part of the program. But I was still in Miami Airport, waiting for my flight back home from the USNC_UN Women, the US National Committee for UN Women, board meeting.

Girls in Tech Startups

Anne Marie Imafidon is, according to a headline in Sky News, the “Eldest child in ‘Britain’s Brainiest Family.'” On her website she says, “I like Maths, Technology and helping others.” I learned to say ‘maths,’ as the British do, during my Peace Corps days.

She talks about leadership in her blog. She says when she was asked to be on a panel on leadership she wasn’t sure she was a leader!

She says, “Last June I head Malcolm Gladwell speak about Generational Paradigms and the difference between the way Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and the way the recent Occupy Movement was led. There was no central person ‘running things’ in the Occupy Movement, so when people were removed, the whole thing didn’t fall in on itself. Leadership has become more of a conversation than one way communication. Leadership is now aboutcollaboration.”

She also champions girls in her talk at TedX Barcelona last year. She encourages all of us to support girls in STEM careers: science, tech, engineering, and maths.

Her talk meshes well with the goals of UN Women, their HeForShe initiative, and the need to empower women and girls. I wonder if she knows UN Women?

Maybe she’ll speak at the Commission on the Status of Women in March.

Mall Shopping in Nigeria

Ado Bayero Mall in northern Nigeria - Mall Shopping in Nigeria

Ado Bayero Mall in northern Nigeria

I found an interesting letter in today’s NYTimes, Nigerians at the Mall. The author is “an associate professor at Seton Hall University, where he teaches international relations and directs the Africana Center.”

He is Ghanaian, I assume, from his name, Kwame Okonor.

I hadn’t seen the article he was writing about from early January, by Norimitsu Onishi. That piece described the mall in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, and the pleasure of the shoppers.

The author said, “Delta Mall opened here last spring, bringing to about a dozen the number of Western-style shopping malls catering to 180 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation [and] biggest economy.” In fact, Nigeria is “projected to overtake the United States as the world’s third-most populous nation by 2050.” 

Onishi says, “The emergence of malls — and mall culture — in Nigeria reflects broad trends on the continent, including a growing middle class with spending power and the rapid expansion of cities like Warri that are little known outside the region.”

But Kwame Okonor disagrees that a dozen malls are a sign of a rising middle class. He says, “That an oil-rich country like Nigeria has neither dependable electricity nor a strong industrial base shows the precarious state of its middle class. All one need do is step out of the air-conditioned malls to feel the illusion of consumption.”

The Palms, the mall near our son Sam's home in Lekki.

The Palms, the mall near our son Sam’s home in Lekki. It has a movie theater among other amenities.

I think the truth is somewhere in between. Certainly one could spend a few days in Lekki or Victoria Island, parts of Lagos, and have the same lifestyle as one has in Westport, Connecticut. Of course this assumes the money and access to diesel fuel for the generators!

How many people have this life, in Lagos or the other Nigerian cities? Maybe a few million? Probably far fewer.

As Okonor says, venture out into Lagos traffic, and one is immediately confronted by the reality of life for most Nigerians.

And today, with the price of oil under $30, life will become harder for many Nigerians as the government lacks funds for education, health, and other infrastructure needs.

Yale Women in Connecticut

On Sunday I’m hosting an event for Yale Women in Connecticut. I’ll speak about memoir writing and Elise will talk about other aspects of the book business apart from writing.

We expect about 30 women. Should be fun! We’re hoping for minimal snow.

How do you feel about snow and cold? Are you avoiding it altogether by living in warmer climes? Do you thrive on ski slopes? (I’m shivering just writing that!)

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Catherine ….. (and Steve),

    Wish I could attend your event on writing, Catherine, as I struggle to write memoirs. I greatly enjoyed reading both your book and Steve’s. In fact, they inspired me to make an attempt to capture my Peace Corps experiences and compare them to the three years immediately after, which I spent teaching in NYC with the Teacher Corps. The students in NYC were just as lovable as my Nigerian students, but more challenging and challenged because of their inner-city circumstances. Along with providing a teaching job, the Teacher Corps paid for a master’s degree from New York University which was golden for a young gal with no $ except for the Peace Corps exit stipend. Best to you both.

    • I wish you could come too, Katy. I love meeting other former PCV’s. Have you actually put pen to paper, so to speak? That is, have you started your own memoir? Did you continue teaching after the 3 yrs in NYC?

  2. I inadvertently celebrated the Martin Luther King holiday. Last month I ordered a ticket for a basketball game between Harvard and Howard University in downtown Washington, D.C. It didn’t occur to me that the game was scheduled on Martin Luther King weekend.
    It took me two and a half hours to get to the Burr Gymnasium, traveling by car, Metro and a mile of walking. In my 50 years living in D.C. and Virginia, I had never before set foot on the campus of Howard, which is considered the oldest and best of the historic black colleges.
    The gym was filled with African Americans, including about half of the Harvard rooting section. There was a host of sexy cheerleaders and a loud pep band. It was a very spirited crowd rocking the gym. Howard led the game at halftime, but Harvard came back in the second half to win 69-61.
    In Sunday morning’s Washington Post there was a column by sportswriter John Feinstein recounting the plans of the two coaches to schedule the game on MLK weekend. Tommy Amaker is helping the Howard coach, who’s a friend, to elevate that college’s basketball team to the level of Harvard’s. Amaker was quoted as describing the game as “Harvard north vs. Harvard south.”

    • Great story, Steve. I first went to the Howard University campus to connect with a college classmate who was teaching there. The next time was for our son-in-law’s graduation from Howard – he wasn’t yet our son-in-law, but our daughter’s fiance. Is Tommy Amaker a name I should know?