John Brown and Hayti

John Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue.

Andrew Hunder, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Trial of John Brown, Charlestown, Virginia, Monday, Oct. 30, 1859.

… [John Brown] had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Overture; he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about; and from all these things he had drawn the conclusion, believing, as he stated there’ he did believe, and as we all (if I may judge from myself) believed, that upon the first intimation of a plan formed for the liberation of the slaves, they would immediately rise all over the Southern States.

Testimony of Richard Realf (Officer with John Brown’s Provisional Government), before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harpers Ferry, January 21, 1860.

The journals contain the following letter from VICTOR HUGO, which he had written in response to a communication addressed him by three citizens of Hayti, in Paris:


CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC: I thank you for the eloquent terms in which you have addressed me. Your words reach my heart. A white and a black Republic are sisters, the same as a white and black man are brothers. There is only one humanity, because there is only one God. The French Republic had negroes among the representatives of its people; and that is the one thing that made it above all glorious.

I have been sadly deceived in that fraternity of races, the Southern States of the American Union. In killing BROWN they have committed a crime which will take place among the calamities of history. The rupture of the Union will fatally follow the assassination of BROWN.

What an event! What a disaster!

I am afflicted at heart in thinking of this crime and this fault.

As to JOHN BROWN, he was an apostle and a hero. The gibbet has only increased his glory and made him a martyr.

Black and white, all brothers, all equal, let us rally more and more around that principle of all principles — Liberty. Your friend, VICTOR HUGO.

I love your Republic. Let your people know it.

In Jacmel, Gonaives, Cape Haytien, Cayes and Port-au-Prince, religious services had been held in commemoration of JOHN BROWN, and Le Progress published appeals calling on the people to subscribe liberally for the benefit of the widow of the executed man.

Le Progress also contains an address to the “Philanthropists of America,” in which special allusion is made to Albany, N.Y., in the following terms:

“Citizens of Albany, the cannon you fired to commemorate the death of JOHN BROWN has reechoed in the hearts of Haytians and of the strangers in our land, and reverberates through our fields and cities. Your energetic protest against an act of barbarity does you the greatest honor, as it evidently proves that there exist in the American Republic courageous men devoted-to the holy cause of the freedom of the blacks. Receive, then, the sincere thanks of the citizens of the Republic of Hayti — a Republic that its enemies on another continent represent as always in ruin. Albanians, the Haytians are without prejudice: they receive without hesitation all who come to join them. It is by our conduct, and by that alone, that you can find arguments capable of refuting the assertions of those enemies of humanity who decry us.”

Letter from Hayti, New York Times (March 3, 1860)

From Le Progres, in Hayti, comes an article calling upon people to go to “the subscription offices opened in every town, to honor the memory of John Brown and glorify our race….From the opposite shores of our harbor our fathers, the brave soldiers of 1804, are contemplating us.  They are touched with joy and delight.” March 16, 1860

“John Brown in Hayti,” The Liberator (March 16, 1860)

Image: Augustus Washington, John Brown with Subterranean Pass-Way Flag, Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1846/1847. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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France, the West Indies, and the History of Slavery

The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and the basis of bourgeois wealth was the slave trade and the slave plantations in the colonies. Let there be no mistake about this. “Sad irony of human history,” says Jaures, “the fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes by the slave-trade gave to the bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation.” And Gaston-Martin the historian of the slave trade sums up thus: though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended. Therefore when the bourgeoisie proclaimed the Rights of Man in general, with necessary reservations, one of these was that these rights should not extend to the French colonies. In 1789 the French colonial trade was eleven million pounds, two-thirds of the overseas trade of France. British colonial trade at that time was only five million pounds. What price French abolition?

JR Johnson [CLR James] “The Revolution and the Negro,” New International, (December 1939)

The only branch of industry in the kingdom, that remains flourishing, is the trade to the sugar-colonies; and the scheme of emancipating the negroes, or at least of putting an end to importing them, which they borrowed from England, has thrown Nantes, Havre, Marseilles, Bordeaux, and all other places connected secondarily with that commerce, into the utmost agitation.

Arthur Young, Travels During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789, Undertaken More Particularly with a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources and National Prosperity of the Kingdom of France (1794)

Image: French Slave Ship, La Marie-Seraphique, Saint Doingue (Haiti), 1773, (Image Reference E030) as shown on The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

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Black Folk in Dark Times: Storified

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Black Folk in Dark Times: A Workshop on Sovereignty, Citizenship, and Freedom

For more information visit: Black Folk in Dark Times. [#DarkTimes]

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“Haitian people will hoist the flag of Charlemagne Peralte and will get rid of the bloody pro-imperialist dynasty of Duvalier.”

Image: Péralte, Charlemagne (Studio gráfico fatamorgana, 1979. Source: International Institute of Social History.

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Abduction & Assistance: An Interview with Donald Rumsfeld

André Eugène, Military Glory, 2010. Mixed media, height: 72 inches. Collection of the artist.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  Yes, sir?

Q:  I wonder if you could tell us how many U.S. troops do you think, in a round figure, might be required — might be sent to Haiti, and how long do you think they would stay?  And also, President Aristide is claiming now that he was virtually kidnapped by the U.S. military and forced to leave Haiti.  Was he spirited –

Rumsfeld:  Wait a second.  Let me start.  I’m writing down this series of questions.  You’re going to go to the third one now, Charlie?

Q:  All right, go.

Rumsfeld:  This is –

Q:  All right.  How many troops and how long, and was President Aristide forced out of Haiti by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld:  Well, you’ve asked them differently the second time.  Let me go to the first one.

There are in the few hundreds there now.  The number is growing. It’s going to increase above that.  It will be — the entire force over time will be what is necessary, but my guess is that the — when all of the other countries that have volunteered forces plus the U.S. forces are there for this interim period — relatively short period — that the numbers will probably be less than 5,000 total of everybody, and ours will be down in a small fraction of that.  I don’t know what the number will be, but for the sake of argument say 1,500 or 2,000 or less, but time will tell.  We’ll have what’s needed, and as additional forces come in, why, we’ll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense, and that will be subject to the recommendations of the commanders.

You said that Aristide was claiming he was abducted, or what was the wording?

Q:  Virtually.

Rumsfeld:  Virtually?

Q:  He claimed he was virtually kidnapped and forced to leave –

Rumsfeld:  I don’t believe that’s true that he is claiming that.  I just don’t know that that’s the case.  I’d be absolutely amazed if that were the case.  There may be somebody saying that he’s saying that, but I don’t believe that –

Q:  Did the U.S. military help him leave?  Facilitate –

Rumsfeld:  The Department of State and other countries worked with the Haitian government, and I think I’ll leave it to the Department of State to characterize what took place.  But I was involved in phone calls most of the night and most of the morning, and   getting — and was involved in the entire process, and the idea that someone was abducted is just totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of.  So I think that — I do not believe he is saying what you say — are saying he is saying.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  And if somebody else is saying it, that’s a quite different thing.

Q:  Okay.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld:  Yeah?

Q:  Given the proximity of Haiti to the U.S. and the refugee problems that have existed in the past, is it in the U.S. interest to maintain — to be the leader of the peacekeeping force, or is that something that you want a different country to take on?  And who might that be?

Rumsfeld:  Well, the reality is that when something needs to be done and — the concern in this case was that the president had made a decision to resign.  And the new president, under their constitution, requested assistance.  And the question is, what kind of a gap do you want between the resignation and departure of one person and the capability of the new government?  How long a gap is desirable, given the instabilities that existed there?

The judgment was made — and properly, in my view — that the gap should be very short.  And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates. We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that.  We are the lead elements of the interim force, and we would be in the lead of that force until such as time as we — the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country.  Obviously, we’d like to see some other country take that lead, and they will, eventually.

Q:  What?

Rumsfeld:  Well, it’s a hemisphere problem.  It’s not just the United States’ problem.  We’ve got a lot of things we’re doing. And once the situation’s stabilized and — it, I think, would be appropriate to pass the lead off.

Myers:  As you know, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses this.  And there are countries in the hemisphere that have shown a willingness to step forward, and they’re being worked with by the Department of State and by the Department of Defense.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, in reference to the earlier question about the departure of Aristide, what exactly was the U.S. military role in getting him out of the country?

Rumsfeld:  The U.S. military role was to — the Department of State managed that entire process.

Q:  And the aircraft, for example.  Was that a U.S. military aircraft?

Myers:  It was a contract aircraft that State –

Q:  Under contract to the State Department or –

Myers:  Right, the State — State worked on that.  And we also provided security from — and I don’t know the exact details of this, but our FAST team was providing security for our ambassador, who was intimately involved in this operation.  But it’s a better question for the State Department.  So we just made sure that the — that they weren’t subject to the violence in Port-au-Prince as they moved to the airport.

Q:  But the FAST team did not actually go to the airport with him and escort, or to move him out?

Rumsfeld:  Not to my knowledge.

Q:  General Myers?

Q:  Well, Mr. Secretary, just to be clear, President Aristide has told others — and we expect to hear from — this from himself sometime today — but has told others that about 20 combat troops came to his residence and forced him to leave against his will, didn’t allow him to make any phone calls.  Now, set that aside for a moment and — because I know that you have some question about whether he’s actually saying this.  But just so we know –

Rumsfeld:  You just said he has told others, and of course you don’t know that.  Others are saying they were told by him and I think more — (Inaudible.).

Q:  Lots of others are saying, and they’re all saying the same thing.  And as I say–

Rumsfeld:  Is that right?

Q:  — we expect to hear from Aristide himself sometime shortly.

Rumsfeld:  Good.

Q:  But just tell us, you know, without disputing that, just tell us what exactly did the U.S. military do?  Did they go to his residence in combat gear and escort him?  What can you tell us about what the role the U.S. military played?

Rumsfeld:  Well, it will be interesting — first, you say he has told lots of others.

Q:  Well, he’s told several members of Congress, including Charles Rangel; he’s told Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica. He’s told a number –

Rumsfeld:  Yeah.

Q:  — Congresswoman Maxine Waters.  He’s had a series of conversations today.

Rumsfeld:  Well, as I say, this process, to the extent that the United States was involved, was through the Department of State. And questions, I would think, should be directed there.  If you’re asking me — from the phone calls I was on that night and from my meetings today, if I have any awareness of U.S. military being involved, of going in — what did you say? — combat gear to his house –

Q:  Right.

Rumsfeld:  — and transporting him to an airplane.  I have no knowledge of that.  (To General Myers.)  Do you?

Q:  He was not forced — he was not forced to leave?

Q:  Well, Mr. Secretary, what is your –

Myers:  No, I don’t either.  And I would say the only thing they could have done, and this is — I guess on my part is to provide protection, because, you know, there were — at times, there was some violence in Port-au-Prince, and so, just to make sure — but there was no forcible –

Q:   (Off mike.) — Aristide is telling the truth –

Myers:  No.

Q:  — how unhelpful might it be if he’s going to be in some third country claiming that he was essentially deposed by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld:  Before the United States made a decision to send in some elite element of an interim multinational force we had, I believe in hand, a letter of resignation signed by the president.

Q:  He wasn’t coerced in any way to sign that?

Rumsfeld:  Well, as I’ve said three times, certainly not to my knowledge.  The Department of Defense was not involved in that process; the Department of State was and the embassy.  And I’ve heard nothing that would lend any credence whatsoever to the kinds of questions you’re asking.

Myers:  I can agree with that.  I spoke to him on the phones all that night.  I mean, this is not — doesn’t jive with anything that we’ve heard.

Q:  May I do a follow-up on that same question?  Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines, and claiming that the Marines were part of a coup to remove him.

Rumsfeld:  (Laughs.)

Q:  I wonder if either one of you gentlemen would comment on her comment or claim? Other than the smile.

Rumsfeld:  Trying to pick the right words.  If you’re asking me did that happen, the answer is no.

Q:  But any embellishment?

Rumsfeld:  I think not today.  (Scattered laughter.)

Source: Department of Defense News Brief: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Myers, March 01, 2004 1:30 PM EDT.

Image: André Eugène, Military Glory, 2010. Mixed media, height: 72 inches. Collection of the artist. Photo: Leah Gordon.

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Solidarity & Sustainability: An Interview with Sokari Ekine

Sokari Ekine is a social activist, educator, editor, and journalist whose work and writing is engaged with queer, feminist, pan-Africanist, anti-imperialist, and environmental politics — in both Haiti and Nigeria. She has written for publications including Pambazuka News, Feminist Africa and New Internationalist and she is the editor of Blood and Oil: Testimonies of Violence from Women of the Niger Delta, SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa, and with Firoze Manji, African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions. Most recently, Ekine and Hakima Abbas edited the Queer Africa Reader, a path-breaking collection of essays, testimonies, statements, and stories by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex contributors from across the continent. Currently teaching in Port-au-Prince, Ekine edited the blog Black Looks from 2004 to 2014. She tweets at @blacklooks and her tumblr can be found here.

What first brought you to Haiti? What kind of work have you been doing there?

I first visited Haiti in 2007 under the auspices of Pambazuka News, I was the online editor at the time. The aim of the trip was to meet with women’s groups and present on gender and militarization in the Niger Delta. Rea Dol, founder and director of SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétion-Ville), and her family were my hosts and we have remained good friends and I continued to visit over the years.  With the encouragement of Rea and other friends, I have been trying to move to Port-au-Prince for an extended period since early 2012 and finally this was made possible in January 2013 after I received a year long new media fellowship from the John Hopkins International Reporting Project.  So my time has been spent between reporting on health issues, teaching, and working in solidarity with activists/organizers on a range of issues and projects and really just living my life.

In one of your “occasional musings” on Haiti on Black Looks, you point out that two criticisms of the deliverance of aid and charitable support to countries like Haiti are the introduction of inappropriate technologies without local consultation or participation and the other the long-term sustainability of projects. What have you seen in Haiti over the past couple of years in regards to both? How would you assess the implementation of foreign aid projects as we pass the four-anniversary of the earthquake?

Volumes have been written on the ineffectiveness and lack of sustainability of development aid but the issues   can be broken down according to two factors: waste and dependence.  In addition to the usual governmental and non-governmental aid agencies, there are hundreds of faith based groups and churches in Haiti. With the right connections and a few photos of starving black children, a US based charity or church can raise thousands over a weekend, employ x number of people and arrive in rural Haiti with free food, medicines, clothes and religion. I contend that we don’t know what many religious groups and other charities are really doing in Haiti. There are few regulations, no visas requirements and no monitoring of projects or churches. Every flight I have taken to or from Port-au-Prince, there has been at least one mission and some I have spoken too have been coming for years. They tell you this with pride completely unaware or maybe not, that they are contributing to a culture of dependency which keeps them in jobs and Haitians in poverty.

In many cases the technology might be appropriate but because consultation is minimal — in the sense that insufficient research takes place of local resources available, local needs and local infrastructure — projects fail or soon become unsustainable. Take for example a water purification project of considerable cost, was to provide clean water to a number of internally displaced camps and poor neighborhoods. The project organizers insisted that the water be provided free of charge, which is a laudable but not practical without considerable ongoing funding to pay for a water truck, drivers and maintenance.  I understand wanting to provide free water but even if there was funding for free delivery, how long could this be sustained? The cost would be thousands every year and we need to ask is there another way? Can this money be used to create jobs so people can become financially independent? I don’t know the answer but meanwhile the purifier lies idle and no one gets water free or otherwise which is rather sad.

We can compare this with another project/enterprise for a group of 20 women living on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The women have received a small amount of funding to build a water storage tank for wash water and a small water purifier for drinking water.  Once completed the women will have low cost water for themselves plus be able to sell the surplus and at the very least they will break even.

There are so many examples like this where the technology sounds great but quite often the actual application is not thought through. Another problem is that NGOs arrive, offer services or technology, make all kinds of promises but fail to follow up with the necessary support.  This has happened to SOPUDEP who were provided with compost toilets but promises of support never materialized. The system became too expensive to maintain and this summer they reverted to traditional ‘deep hole’ latrines.  The school was also offered ‘solar’ cookers but they refused them because they were totally unpractical.  You cannot prepare daily food for 700 children with solar cookers!

But it’s not just with technology that interventions are whimsical.  In a recent article on Restaveks, Nicholas Kristof concludes that “free and accessible birth control” is one way to fight trafficking in Haiti and presumably globally since this is a global problem.  The idea of providing birth control to Haitian women is highly problematic, ending poverty by ending the birth of poor children to poor mothers is not a solution but a depopulation strategy. It does not tackle the structural causes of poverty.

You’ve also written on the environmental costs of “reconstruction.” What have you seen and what are the major issues in Haiti concerning development, sustainability, and eco-system preservation?

The piece you refer to concerns the degradation of the riverbed in Pernier. In the period after the earthquake, particularly in the past two years there has been this massive building boom largely fueled by government projects and Haitian-American monies. In the past year alone parts of Port-au-Prince such as the rich neighbourhood of Petion-Ville have been completely transformed. It’s great that rebuilding is taking place but it’s only in the richer neighborhoods and it comes at a high price to the environment. Haiti is a mountainous and hilly country and right now some of those hills are disappearing.  For example on the outskirts of the Port-au-Prince along Route Nationale 1 huge chunks of hillside are being cut out to provide building materials. The same goes for river beds which are being excavated for the gravel. The photos I took only show the present and I am sorry I didn’t take photos three years ago so people could see the difference. Imagine 24/7 removing the gravel from the riverbed? First the trees were destroyed now the hillsides and the rivers are going the same way. It’s an unregulated paradise for business and the government, which collects taxes for destroying the environment.

In years to come Haitians will again be blamed for destroying their rivers and hills much in the same way they are blamed for destroying the trees. But when you investigate, it is not the people but big business and corrupt governments who are to blame. In her trilogy Love Anger, Madness, first published in 1968, the Haitian novelist Marie Vieux-Chauvet, described how foreigners forced Haitian peasants to cut down their trees for sale or starve. We don’t hear this story. Rather, it is always poor Haitians cutting trees for firewood whereas thousands of trees were cut by corporate greed and government corruption. The farmers knew this would destroy their land and tried to protest, but their lives were worth less than the trees! Then charities arrive with food, clothing, and the bible to save those whose land and livelihood were destroyed.

You introduce your first post in the Haiti – Feminist Series on Black Looks by noting: “One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organizing for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organizing and movement building.” Can you say a little about the different types of feminist organizing and movement building that you’ve encountered in Haiti?

What stands out for me are the everyday acts of solidarity and mutual support.  Support networks are crucial as in Haiti there is always a crisis but just the energy needed to live and work through the week is tremendous and sometimes overwhelming. The violence of poverty is overwhelming – we of the privileged speak about it, write about it, and stare at it through tinted or even open windows but really we don’t know.

This is not to say there are not differences, but one’s religious beliefs or sexual orientation are not determining factors for coming together. I’m not talking about grand campaigns but rather small, focused actions that respond to the practical needs of women and children in poor communities. Secondly, building relationships within and between neighborhoods and communities, between issues and creating support networks where women are at the center. What this means is that the possibility of change becomes real, not a dream – though dreaming is good too.

Most recently I have noticed there is a growing focus and concern over sustainability – how to integrate movement building and organizing with income generation that is viable, possible over the long-term, and that does not force people to have to rely on donors even if the donors themselves are working in solidarity. However these are small pockets of organizing. Overall when I look at Haiti in the present, it is hard to see how the majority of lives have improved. Some people made a lot of money in the aftermath of the earthquake and a small few are still making money but the poor are being erased. I think they are in a fight for their lives.

You’ve also worked with queer communities on both sides of Atlantic – in both Haiti and West Africa. Can you speak on some of the similarities and differences in the struggles and strategies of both communities? Are their structural parallels in terms of the relationship to local states and to the international NGO community? Is there a parallel problem in the Caribbean of what you’ve termed the “spectacularizing of African homophobia” and, accompanying it, the emergence of a white savior complex through the “Gay International”?

I cannot speak to the Caribbean and my experience of queer organizing in Haiti is limited. I have met and attended various events and meetings as a guest as well as holding formal, individual and group interviews in PAP. However, two factors stand out in Haiti. First homosexuality is not criminalized, and secondly homosexuality is not excluded or denigrated within vodou (some Hougans for example are openly gay and lesbian) though this is not to say there is no homophobia amongst vodou practitioners. Having said that, there is considerable homophobia in the wider populace, especially among evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

This year saw the first organized anti-gay march that was organized by an all faith coalition of homophobic haters called The Haitian Coalition of Religious and Moral Organizations. The consequence of this march of hate was the death of two gay men and the injury of forty-seven others who were attacked with machetes, stones, and sticks. The attacks continued the following weekend. Since then there has been an attack on a private party when an organized gang tried to burn down the house; and two separate attacks on the leaders of Kouraj a LGBT group, and Fascidis, a lesbian advocacy organization. It’s not clear who is behind the “anti-gay” protests and violence and I wonder if there is a connection between faith-based homophobia and the growing demonization of vodou, particularly by foreign missionaries.

I can only speak generally and, yes, there is a relationship with the international NGO community, the US, Canada, and France. But I am not in a position to speak critically of what is taking place. The spectacular in Haiti is a spectacular poverty as in “the poorest country in the western hemisphere” and spectacular disasters and humanitarian aid. The LGBTQ community has not yet been singled out for the ‘worst place to be gay’ story!

In terms of the state itself, I understand the President has spoken against the homophobic attacks but he has done nothing to protect queers by ensuring prosecution of homophobic crimes. It has taken years of hard work from human rights activists to prosecute rape crimes and unless a similar campaign is structured around homophobia it is doubtful the government will do more than mouth empty words.

How are the effects and impacts of the Nigerian same-sex marriage bill similar to that of the US Patriot Act?

Through a number of interrelated and contesting laws and social mechanisms. Both are underpinned by a heteronormative nationalist project marked by exclusions.  Like the Nigerian same-sex marriage bill, the Patriot Act does not allow for difference –  for example, in terms of religious beliefs or the multiplicities of gender. Citizens are assembled as homogenous with a frightening expectation of a uniformity in belief systems, behaviour and willingness to act as agents of the state.  Both require surveillance in the public and private spheres and both require citizen vigilantes to snitch on neighbours, friends and family.

The impact is to create fear — and to create an environment where the power of the state to infiltrate the domestic private sphere is encouraged and accepted.  Citizens are told that their actions and those of the state are there to protect them from the chaos of deviants and terrorists, those “those who seek to destroy our way of life.” This may be the phantom known as the “American way of life” or the phantom of the normative heterosexual family or the nostalgia of an imaginary Africaness and African past which we are told does not include homosexuality. Queer Africans like Queer Americans – gender non-conforming, transgender and all the dykes, bulldaggers and sexual punks who challenge normative mores – are viewed as ‘incompletecitizens, expendable, and chaotic.

This is very similar to the poor in Haiti and other parts of the world who are also seen as expendable and deviant, what Ananya Roy calls the “bottom billion.” But in the case of Nigeria, the poor expendables are set against the queer expendables and its really only when the two can come together that we can begin to tear down these nationalist exclusionary projects.

In the introduction to the Queer Africa Reader, you and your co-editor, Hakima Abbas, write that the immediate impetus for the book was the 2010 charges against a Malawaian transgender woman, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, and her male partner, Steven Monjeza, for “gross indecency and unnatural acts,” and the eruption into the public of what had previously been muted discussions among queer African activists, intellectuals, and artists as a result. But can the Reader be placed within a longer genealogy of underground – or muted — queer literature and print culture from the continent and the Africa diaspora? What are its antecedents in terms of zines, special issues, collections, collectives, or individual writers?

The impetus for the book was it had become imperative that we speak for ourselves and about our world as we see it which is variegated and complicated. This not to say we are the first Africans to write about queer Africans. There is a genealogy. At the same time, all too often our words had gotten lost or placed on the margins of the work of big NGOs or foreign academics and activists. The few years preceding 2010, LGBTIQ communities across the continent had become increasingly caught up between African patriarchy, religious fascism and western imperialism. The charges against Twonge Chimalanga and Steven Monjeza were the most glaring example of the kind of disruption and tension brought about when these three meet at a particular juncture. When we started in 2010 the movement was at a crossroads. People were becoming more conscious of the controlling restrictiveness of NGOs and interventions by western activists and there was a real push away from these towards self-determination and a collective Pan-Africanism.  There was also an increased feminist and queer analysis amongst the community leading to a greater self-awareness and confidence. These are important changes.

In terms of antecedents, there has been a number of books published in South Africa as well articles and essays in various African feminist journals. In the last two three years African queers have become highly visible in online spaces such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook. African Sexualities: A Reader, edited by Slyvia Tamale, was published in 2012. We see the reader as complementary and an integral part of a progressive African feminist project that has grown over the past five or six years, one that embraces our sexual and gender plurality and seeks transformation.

What are you future publishing projects? Can we expect a Queer Haiti Reader?

As a queer Nigerian feminist, I was able to co-edit the QAR. A Queer Haitian Reader will have to be undertaken by Haitian Queers.  I don’t have any publishing projects and honestly I don’t wish to go through the process of editing another collection in the near future.  I look forward to returning to Haiti in a few days for at least a couple of months. And I will continue working in the background with Rea Dol and other friends.

Image:  Leroy Exil, “Water Spirits,” (1992).

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 12, 2010

Image: Bourmond Bryon (1920?-2004), “Untitled” (Date?). Source: Conservation of Paintings-Smithsonian Institution Haiti Cultural Recovery Project. Also see [pdf].

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