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Reaching higher: Women liberators and gender

I have recently written an academic article titled “Reaching Higher: Women Liberators and Gender” which was published in the Horn of Africa Bulletin of the Life & Peace Institute in Uppsala (November-December 2016 Vol. 28, Issue 6).

National Action Plans (NAPs) and Regional Action Plans (RAPs) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) are useful guides and advocacy tools for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 on WPS and UNSCR 1820 on sexual violence against civilians and armed conflict, for both state actors and civil society organizations. However, such documents have been slow on bringing about the desired social change. This is even more problematic for countries that have yet to develop NAPs. In the Horn of Africa[1], only three out of the eight members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have NAPs on WPS, two of which were adopted in 2016, 16 years after the adoption of UNSCR 1325. To promote the WPS agenda in the Horn, IGAD adopted the IGAD Regional Action Plan (IGAD-RAP) for 2011-2015 to implement UNSCRs 1325 and 1820[2].

The aim of this paper is to call on WPS activists, as well as feminists in the Horn, to reach higher than NAPs by challenging the discourse that women are solely victims of conflict, and emphasise women’s agency in peace and state-building. Moreover, all actors should pay due consideration to gender-just peace and transitional justice. By doing so, a critical feminist engagement with UNSCR 1325 and 1820 should argue that the political participation emphasised in the IGAD-RAP has become conflated with agency[3]. Governments of the Horn must ensure space for women to engage in peace-building while also considering their needs and representation in processes of transitional justice by acknowledging the role women have played in national liberation, reconstruction, and state-building processes.

The full article can be found HERE.

The full issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin can be found HERE.

Sweden’s Santa Lucia celebrations marked by epistemic violence against children of African decent

Ask the average Swede what the Santa Lucia celebration is about in terms of its historical/religious significance; chances are they won’t be able to give you straight forward answer because the details escape their memory. Like the below video mentions, when it comes to this Swedish tradition, “the why is less important than the how”.

This morning (13 December 2016), thousands of children (and adults)–including my own three year old son–celebrated Santa Lucia by singing songs and eating pepparkakor (i.e. ginger bread cookies) and lussekatter (i.e. saffron buns) afterwards. Unfortunately, however, this year (around the 4th of December) saw an ugly controversy emerge when a Swedish department store called Åhléns posted an advertisement on its Facebook page that featured a Swedish child of African descent wearing the usual costume worn by children on Santa Lucia (a white robe and a crown of candles). The picture received a storm of racist comments (and love by anti-racists) to the point where  Åhléns removed the picture in consideration of the child and his family. Apparently, some within the Swedish society saw the picture of a black child featured in a Santa Lucia costume (which, by the way, is one of three costumes MANY preschoolers in Sweden wore this morning, including a Santa suit and one of a ginger bread person) as a threat to their “tradition”.

There have been many commentaries, opinion pieces, tweets, and Facebook posts that condemned and called out the hypocrisy of this phenomenon. The point of this post is not to repeat what has already been said, but to address the epistemic violence that African-Swedish children face regularly, as well as the fear this instills on those of us who are their parents.

*The above tweet by Martin Fredriksson suggests that a news site Aftonbladet fixes the title of their article to say “Racists caused a racial hate storm” instead of “Lucia child causes a racial hate storm.

1. The gendered, postcolonial discourse that defines who is a child and who isn’t

Before I go on, I would like to point out how much the child who was pictured in the advertisement looks like my own son; I can easily imagine that the child’s parents are of Eritrean and/or Ethiopian descent. Another thing I should point out, for those who do not already know, our (i.e. parents from the Horn of Africa and beyond) children are beautiful, sometimes rather than handsome; the boy in the advertisement was no exception. Only after reading more into the controversy did I come to realize that the child in the advert was a boy; I initially thought he was a girl, not just because he is beautiful but also because his Santa Lucia outfit (or is it just the crown of candles?) is more commonly presented in the media as being an outfit worn by girls, even though it is very common for boys to wear the exact same white robe. Either way, in my eyes, there was nothing at all that suggested there was something wrong with the picture. But the eyes of the racists, who were too quick to depict this picture in ugly ways, couldn’t see what I saw.

In this particular incident, three things were strikingly apparent:

a. That those who were offended by the picture disapproved of the color of the child’s skin, which simultaneously represents–in their eyes–a foreigner, ‘the Other’, even though the chances that he was born in Sweden is high;

b. That both the skin color and the ambiguity of his gender (i.e. he didn’t represent a stereotypical Swedish blonde, long-haired, woman) sparked the racist comments; and

c. The racists who left such hateful comments didn’t recognize or want to acknowledge that the person in the picture was an innocent child; and to articulate anything about him in an indecent way, in a manner that doesn’t befit a child, would be to effectively dehumanizing him.

“To mock and dehumanize a child all for their skin colour is both a symptom and a cause of the European superiority dogma. It is shocking, for a society that prides itself on civilization. …What happened to children being innocent, sweet and vulnerable creatures that deserve all of our love and protection? Even if people hated the idea of a dark-skinned saint, why mock and racially abuse such a beautiful little soul?” Edinah Masanga

It is exactly at these intersections (i.e. race/ethnicity, gender, age… you can also add religion to the mix) that Swedish society experiences some of its most ugliest moments, and it is not without reason that many parents of children of African descent live in constant fear that their children will experience discrimination, if not worse. Which brings me to my next point…

2. The anxiety experienced by parents of children of African descent is well founded

Afrofobi (i.e. a term in Swedish used to depict a phobia of people of African descent) is on the rise in Sweden, so much so that the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent mentions in an official statement, among other things, how Afrophobic hate crimes have increased by 24 % since 2008. Tragically, children of African descent are not immune to this. Most notably, last year, a week before Halloween, a child (15-years old) named Ahmed Hassan of Somali descent was murdered in cold blood at his school; the perpetrator purposely chose his victim because of his skin color. Those who recognize Sweden as country of ethnic tolerance, of being a country that has welcomed thousands of refugees, might think this was an isolated incident, but for parents of African descent, this is a fear that we live with everyday.

It is difficult to fully describe the daily anxieties of parents of African descent experience, but imagine how any parent feels when their child is in potential danger… now times that to the tenth power. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his book “Between the World and Me”, talks about an encounter he has when a white woman pushed his 5-year old son (who is Black). To quote him directly (page 94):

“Many things now happened at once. There as the reaction of any parent when a stranger lays a hand on the body of his or her child. And there was my own insecurity in my ability to protect your black body.”**

Don’t get me wrong–Sweden is one of the best countries in the world for children. But the dual existance of invisibility and hypervisibility that people of color (including racialized children) live  in exists here just like it does in many (if not all) W.E.I.R.D (i.e. Western, educated, industrial, rich, democratic) countries.

3. The phenomena of racial tension around the holidays is happening elsewhere in the West

Even if Santa Claus isn’t real, there are plenty of people who will argue that he is white. This year, the Mall of America hired its first ever black “official Santa Claus”. In response to this, there were plenty of racist trolling on the web; some even called for a boycott of the mall. Western media representations of Christian holidays normalizes whiteness to the extent that most people have no idea that the original, real-life St. Nicholas himself was of Middle Eastern descent.



This Black Santa incident is NOTHING compared to the decades of racial stereotyping and humiliation that takes place every year in the Netherlands and Belgium. To keep a long story short, check out this honest video by Christophe Haubursin, explaining the racist caricature known as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete in English), which is remnant of the Netherlands’ colonial past.

To conclude, the Santa Lucia controversy and all of the other instances I’ve mentioned in this piece are characteristic of epistemic violence. The struggle against epistemic violence requires the decolonization of our minds, starting with the decolonizing of the way we celebrate “traditions”.

*The featured image, “#VIÄRLUCIA” is a picture by Steffi Aluoch (website: …direct link to image:

**If you haven’t already read “Between the World and Me”, just do it; it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.


Act on 2250 by implementing campaigns, programs and projects for gender-just peace

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2250. I remember the day that it was announced (9 December 2015), and how quickly myself and the many of my friends, young peacebuilders from all over the world, were circulating the news on social media. We were euphoric about this historical milestone, something we have dreamed of for years, especially as we had familiarized ourselves with the UNSC Resolution 1325 (adopted in the year 2000) on Women, Peace and Security. Young peacebuilders had wanted and worked hard to have a resolution they could call their own, and to have all of that effort finally recognized at the UN level was more than wonderful; it was extraordinary. I think it revived hope in many of us, a hope that was diminishing considering the growth of conflict, internally displaced peoples, refugees, human trafficking, gender-based violence, and populist politics that both ignites extremism as well as makes invisible the agency young people have and can possess in bringing about sustainable peace.

But like all UN resolutions and policy papers, the next question of course was “what now?”. Now that we had our resolution, what should we do to implement it and further realize youth agency in peacebuilding?

Since the adoption of UNSCR 2250, young people have been active in advocating for its full implementation, not just in regards to its implementation by states but also by empowering young people to learn more about the resolution as well as establish peacebuilding initiatives on their own.

For starters, the UN appointed an advisory group on Youth, Peace and Security, almost entirely made up of young people (you can find out more about them HERE).

There is also a platform called Youth4Peace that young people (as well as others) can access to get information and join the campaign for young peacebuilders.

The United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders) an organization that I have had close affiliation to as a past member of the International Steering Group of UNOY Peacebuilders, also has many toolkits and resources that may guide youth to become more active in peacebuilding, including a guide to kick-start the implementation of UNSCR 2250 both at the local and national level.

However, there are a few concerns that I have, and currently researching on (Weldeab Sebhatu, 2017 forthcoming). To sum up my concerns in one phrase: UNSCR 2250 needs to engage and take into consideration gender-just peace and transitional justice. According to Björkdahl and Mannergren-Selimovic (2013; 2014; 2015), gender-just peace ensures that post-conflict societies do not return or restructure peace to strengthen and emulate pre-conflict situation—often marred by patriarchal structures that oppress women and other gendered persons—but as a positive peace that provides for social justice and equity. As UNSCR 2250 was inspired by UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, it would be a mistake to not take into consideration of how the representations of youth—as peacebuilders and perpetrators of violence—in terms of the very gendered discourses that both define and seek to undermine the agency of young people in peacebuilding. If UNSCR 2250 and its advocates seek to be progressive and struggle for conflict transformation for sustainable peace, then it must take into consideration how:

  1. Youth as a nodal point of discourse on both peace and violence is highly gendered; and
  2. Peacebuilding efforts will not be sustainable or just without advocating for and making sure that gender-just peace prevails within the post-conflict society.

More to come soon!


Björkdahl, A. & Mannergren Selilmovic, J., 2015. Gendered agency in transitional justice. Security Dialogue, 46(2), pp. 165-182.

Björkdahl, A. & Mannergren Selimovic, J., 2013. Advancing Women Agency in Transitional Justice, s.l.: International Studies Association, ISA Annual Convention.

Björkdahl, A. & Mannergren Selimovic, J., 2014. Gendered justice gaps in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Human Rights Review, 15(2), pp. 201-218.


Twitter: @MsPoCoAfricana and @RahelWeldeab

Frantz Fanon still lives


December 6, 1961, marks the 55th year since the death of Frantz Fanon. Although this great thinker and writer is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. Below are some of his books… absolute MUST READS! #DecolonizeYourMind

Video from teleSur English (


Black Skin, White Masks (1952)


The Wretched of the Earth (1961)


Toward the African Revolution (1964)


A Dying Colonialism (1959)


The time for artists to go to work is NOW: Writing against Trump, writing for our children

I am absolutely devastated by the notion that Donald Trump will soon be the president of the United States of America, but I’m going to channel this devastation into a re-commitment to the values that I believe in, values that can summarized to mean LOVE, and I will do it through speaking and writing.

Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling utter despair, which started accumulating before the US elections but reached its peak the day before the elections. When I reflect back on it, my inner conscious must have been telling me that the election of Donald Trump was inevitable as I panicked to get family members (who are US citizens) to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite the fact that I agreed with them that she wasn’t the most ideal candidate. For me, it was a matter of putting aside grievances for the sake of humanity, because at least with Clinton as president, we would have a leader with life-long experience in advocating for positive change. I would have preferred Bernie Sanders, but like how Talib Kweli stated on The Stream, I thought it was important to look at the immediate reality, and that a symbolic vote against Donald Trump was more important than protesting against the system by not voting; it was very important to vote for Hillary Clinton, especially in protest against the racist, misogynist bigot known as Donald Trump. Despite my efforts, my inner conscious was right and my worst fears came true.

Now I could list down all the reasons why the election of Donald Trump is an absolute disaster, but contemplating on how we are suppose to explain this phenomenon to children has been the most overwhelming. As a mother, my world has been rocked by the notion of explaining to my child how racism, misogyny, bigotry, and bullying won on the 8th of November 2016. My fears have been reflected in so many different ways, by so many different people. Seriously though… how do we explain this to our children?!

The guilt that I feel, as a non-US citizen, is enormous, so how do US citizen parents feel? In the words of Aaron Sorkin, “we’ve embarrassed ourselves in front of our children and the world”. This feeling transcends borders of all kind–not just geographic borders, but borders of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, class, etc.

So what do we do now? We fucking fight! Internalizing the wisdom of the literary genius Toni Morrison, “We go to work… there is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.”

Don’t get me wrong… I am fucking pissed off! But putting aside my fears, I will be more militant in my fight for love, for justice, for equality. It will be difficult for me to engage with people who are militant in defending their “right” to be racist, misogynist, a bigot, but to quote my friend Caitlin Padgett, who in a Facebook post explained why she won’t unfriend Trump supporters:

“The fear we are experiencing is real. We cannot disavow this. If we truly want unity, love and peace to prevail, we must also acknowledge and hold space the pain and darkness that is being felt right now. Can it be transformed? Sure. Can we use it to fuel the fires of change? Absolutely! Do we need time to be with it, whatever “it” is for each one of us? Irrevocably, yes.”

I’ve created this website of mine a while ago, but have been reluctant to regularly post anything on it particularly because academic life has made me self-censor myself when writing for the internet. Academic writing–full of citations and the drive to “say something new, develop a new theory, and participate in ‘knowledge production'”–and academic life in general has turned me away from blogging. Well, that is going to change now… No need for silence, no room for fear!

Aluta continua!



Decolonizing the Mind through Books

In 1997, rappers of conscious Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (AKA Mos Def) poured their rap money into Nkiru Books, Brooklyn’s first Black bookstore, where Kweli was also an employee when their album, Black Star, was released.

On the 28th of December 2015, Kweli had posted a picture on Facebook talking about how despite the fact that they weren’t able to save Nkiru’s location, he will reignite Nkiru Books online, selling books of literature, education, history and culture of people of color, through his website.

Just looking at the book covers posted on his website makes me drool! Even if one chooses not to purchase these gems directly through the website, the website makes an awesome guide to books you can borrow from the library in a quest to decolonize your mind. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, W.E.B. du Bois, Audre Lorde, bell hooks… the list goes on.

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Here’s an interesting article on why we must read the books written by writers of color, especially as they courageously stare down on the white gaze. Want to understand the decolonization debate? Here’s a reading list you should check out.

Decolonizing the mind is not just a goal; it is a life long process… a way of life.  I hope that in 2016 and beyond, I will continue this journey in full force; there are PLENTY of books out there to guide me along that way, so it’s all good.


Akon: ‘America was never built for black people’

Talk to Al Jazeera, a program on Al Jazeera English, interviewed Akon, the Senegalese-American recording artist in January 2015. I am reposting the interview and the content of the article written about the interview by Al Jazeera here because I found it to not only be intriguing, but very telling of the ambivalence in relationships and understandings between Africans and African-Americans. More importantly, Akon’s interview about his project ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ is a great example of the current movement of Africans in the Diaspora who are using their influence, expertise and wealth to give back to their beloved continent.

Senegalese-American artist Akon is a five-time Grammy nominee who has sold over 35 million records worldwide, and has collaborated with some of the biggest names in popular music, such as Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and David Guetta.

The musician, songwriter and producer, who was born in the US but spent much of his childhood in Senegal, is also an activist and a philanthropist – and he has turned his sights on helping Africa.

How many African-Americans do you know actually consider Africa as a vacation spot? Not one… Even just for knowledge, just to know where they came from, just to get an idea of what that is; there is so much fear instilled in them that they wouldn’t even want to go there to visit. You mention Africa, they start shaking.


His current ambitious project, “Akon Lighting Africa,” is working to bring solar-powered electricity to Africans in 49 countries by the end of 2020.

Akon is also an ambassador for the non-profit organisation Peace One Day. Last year, he and actor Jude Law brought their celebrity power to Goma to a concert to promote peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But Akon has also caused controversy through his performance style and his lyrics.

Akon talks to Al Jazeera about running his musical career as a business; his projects – both philanthropic and artistic; singing songs for peace and whether he thinks it can really make an impact; and being an African in the US.

The artist was born in Missouri, the US state where protests against police brutality targeting African-Americans erupted after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson last year.

On Talk to Al Jazeera, Akon shares his views on race relations in the US and speaks frankly about why he thinks African-Americans should understand Africa better.

He says: “Pick a project in New York, for instance: that’s a five-star hotel compared to the environment I came up in…. They actually get money from the government, there actually are programmes that help the impoverished and the poor, and you get food stamps. I mean, they have it good compared to Africa…

“There’s a huge difference in how the government allocates funds for the poor in Africa, the environment is not even left and right. If these groups were to be taken from the environment where they are now to the same ‘equal’ environment in Africa, they would be crying to come back to America.”

Go Back to Africa (Originally posted on Al Jazeera English’s website on 21 January 2015)

The Senegalese-American rapper Akon, who spent most of his life in the US, still holds Africa close to his heart.

His initiative, known as “Akon Lighting Africa” programme, aims to bring clean electricity to 49 African countries by the end of 2020.

However, in an interview with Talk to Al Jazeera, he turned his attention to the increase in US police brutality and his views on life as an African-American.

Al Jazeera: What is it that motivates you to give back to Africa? When was it in your successful career that you decided you wanted to give back?

Akon: I don’t think there was ever a particular moment where I said ‘I gotta give back.’ Being African, raised in Senegal, it is a natural instinct. I always wanted better for my country, so that was more of the motivation.

Al Jazeera: ‘Akon lighting Africa’ is a very ambitious project to bring electricity to one million African households, by using solar energy, by the end of 2014. What has been achieved?

Akon: We actually overachieved. We are beyond a million households now; we are actually in 14 countries. We started with just creating solar energy for rural areas and households and now were doing solar street lamps all through the countries and also incorporating it within each country, we have put in solar in all the villages and we are also creating a system where we are actually employing locals to maintain it and to keep everything in order.

Al Jazeera: How much money did you invest in this particular project?

Akon: I don’t have all the accounts, but per village it can range from $100,000 to $250,000 – just for a pilot.

Al Jazeera: You are certainly the perfect example of the American Dream coming true. There are millions of Africans who make it to the states and don’t have the same success as you have. What do you think is keeping them from reaching that?

Ultimately, you can’t change who you are and I think the biggest obstacle is that when people come to the US they kind of alienate their original personalities and conform to what’s there. When they do that, they don’t get accepted.

– Akon

Akon: This advice will go out to anyone who is migrating to the US. Ultimately, you can’t change who you are and I think the biggest obstacle is that when people come to the US, they kind of alienate their original personalities and way of life and conform to what’s there. And when you do that, first of all, you will never get accepted.

Al Jazeera: You know, you once told the Source magazine that ‘Black people in the US can nag all they want how the system is against black people, but if they saw how other people lived in Africa, they would see how blessed they really are.’

Do you still believe this today, when you see unarmed black teenagers being killed by the police, when you see protests in St Louis, Missouri, where you lived for a long time, when you see people taking to the streets in Atlanta, New York, to denounce police brutality against young African-American men? Do you think the system really is for these people?

Akon: Well, the system was never for them.

Al Jazeera: So, what made you say this to Source magazine?

When I said that, I was talking about the environment in where they live. And the rights they actually have. And the blessing they do, you know, have actual access to. In Africa, the way I grew up, let’s just pick a project in New York, for instance; that’s a 5-star hotel compared to the environment I came up in.

Like, if they see how they live, they actually get money from the government, there actually are programmes that help the impoverished and the poor, and you get food stamps. I mean, they have it good, compared to Africa.

There’s a huge difference in how the government allocates funds for the poor in Africa; the environment is not even left and right. If these groups were to be taken from the environment where they are now to the same ‘equal’ environment in Africa, they would be crying to come back to America

Al Jazeera: But you say now that the system is against them?

Akon: I was talking about a way of life. A far as the system goes, the system in America was never built for black people. This is my personal opinion, I am speaking for myself. I don’t believe it was ever built for black people because that system has never been changed; those documents have never been altered.

These things were made back in the umpteen hundreds and these are the same exact literature that’s down today. So mind you, by the time it was made, black people were never in a position where they were looked at as equal, so if it’s the same documents that they are applying today, it wasn’t meant for them.

Al Jazeera: When you see Ferguson, Missouri, today and you hear of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, do you sympathise? Do you understand that experience that these people are denouncing?

Akon: I clearly understand the frustration. What I don’t understand is that how, if I’m in a position where they are and I don’t want to speak too much for them, because I think I might have some knowledge they might not quite have, because I’m in the position where I have experienced Africa, and I’ve experienced the United States. I always felt like Africa was for Africans. When I see African Americans in America dealing with all these issues, my first question is: ‘Why don’t they just go back home?’

Al Jazeera: Where?

Akon: Back to Africa. Where they’ll be treated fairly. Where they’ll actually be praised for who they are, because of the fact that they are American. They’ll get way better treatment, they can invest their money…

Al Jazeera: How do you tell people who have lived for generations, centuries and centuries in one land to move to a place they don’t know?

Akon: No, but that’s my point. They don’t know. It starts with a visit. How many African Americans do you know [who] actually consider Africa as a vacation spot? Not one. When you look at the overall population of African Americans, a small percentage would decide to go to Africa for vacation. Even, just for knowledge, just to know where they came from, just to get an idea of what that is, there is so much fear instilled in them, that they wouldn’t even want to go there to visit. You mention Africa, they start shaking.