Author: Kagure Mugo

Where are our girls? African leaders are late to the party – again

“We’re here!” This is what is embodied in the statement that African nations, in particular West African ones, made when they declared war on Boko Haram at the conclusion of a security summit in Paris. Nigeria and neighbouring countries are to share intelligence and border surveillance in order to track the group’s movements.

African states have finally come to the party – they’re late but at least they have arrived. It was already discouraging that it took this long for our leaders to heed the call. How could Britain’s plan to tackle Boko Haram be released with more force and precision than an African one?

Technically, the fight against Boko Haram should be a Nigerian-led, African-supported initiative with the West providing a helping hand. This was the idea that emerged from the summit – the European Union, the UK and the United States would support the regional effort. When little British girls go missing in Portugal we don’t have Ghana stepping up to the United Kingdom, saying “Steady back, we got this”. When the Malaysian Airlines plane went missing we did not have anyone calling Tanzania’s president, saying “See, thing is we have this little Boeing 77-200ER that seems to have vanished…”

Your problem, your rodeo.

But alas it is not the case here.

The deputy chairperson of the African Union has called for a united international force, citing terrorism as a new phenomenon and one that needs a multi-lateral approach. This is in fact code for “USA and UK, let us borrow some soldiers and technology”.

US troops and intelligence officers have been sent to Nigeria to aid in the search for the missing girls and it is Americans who are analysing the video released by Boko Haram. They have also sent manned planes and drones within the area. The British plan consists of sending military advisors.

It seems that even before this new plan, countries outside Africa were giving a little bit more than ‘support’.

This was the decision taken during a summit held in Paris by French President Francoise Hollande (the same country siphoning extraordinary amounts of resources from its ex-colonies).

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, France's President Francois Hollande, Cameroon's President Paul Biya, and Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi pose for a photo during an African security summit to discuss the threat of Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram to the regional stability, at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 17 2014. (Pic: AFP)
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, France’s President Francois Hollande, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, and Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi pose for a photo during an African security summit to discuss the threat of Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram to regional stability, at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 17 2014. (Pic: AFP)

The United Kingdom is to host the follow-up meeting to review the action plan.

So Africa is to lead the endeavour when we could not even organise the venue and snacks to come up with the plan? Why was this meeting not held at the African Union headquarters or somewhere else on the continent?

Again, we are in that precarious position where we want to be the life of the party but end up just turning up late, slightly drunk and dancing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

The Nigerian army has gone from blunder to blunder since the start of this debacle, initially claiming that the girls had been returned when they hadn’t and then having to recant the statement. Even western allies have expressed reservations, saying there is a concern surrounding the Nigerian state’s inability to provide decisive leadership to the military.  The Nigerian government has also previously stated that they will not use force to get the girls back, and also backed out of talks to have some of the girls released.

Reservations about Nigeria’s efficiency are also shared within the country. Senator Ahmed Zanna of Boko, in a television interview with Al Jazeera, said he was disappointed in the Nigerian government who, despite having been given 1.2-trillion Lira since 2012 and having a lot of resources, has handled the situation badly.

In light of all this we now have the Global North stepping in. But the question is: do we really need this level of hand-holding?

South Africa has advanced weapons (this is a country that used to have a nuclear weapons programme), Ecowas has boots on the ground, Nigeria’s force includes 20 000 troops and aircrafts. Kenya is fast-gaining knowledge on counter-terrorism due to its own hot mess called al-Shabab.

I am pretty sure we can cobble something solid together if we put our minds to it and the West can simply add a little flavour to an already complete meal, not provide all the ingredients.

This should have been the conversation at the African Union HQ at the beginning of the crisis in April:

Goodluck Jonathan: “We have lost some girls, this is a travesty! It cannot be allowed.”
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma: “Let me rally the troops.”
Other members: “We are on it.”

Paul Kagame would slowly swap his glasses for prescription aviators, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would tie her bandana tighter, someone else would cock a gun while Miriam Makeba played in the background.

Yes, it sounds like a script from a Justice League comic but the truth is we need superheroes and not sidekicks when we face situations like this. The above conversation between African leaders unfortunately didn’t take place, and what has happened is far too little a bit too late.

As a continent we cannot keep being late to our own party, feigning incompetence and coming up with half-baked resolutions. When situations like this arise on the continent, we need to say “We got this, thank you”, not sit back and depend on outside help when we have the capabilities. There are more than 200 girls still missing. We need to stop being reactive and be proactive.  Having summits in Paris and meetings in London and releasing the odd statement is clearly not working to curb Boko Haram and bring our girls back.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter@tiffmugo

What’s the point of polygamy?

Do you have a concubine, a ‘side dish’ or a ‘small house’? In Kenya, now is apparently the time to bring them out so they can be registered officially. Do not be shy, do not hide them. It is time to make the illicit clean and chaste.

It’s been official as of March 20 2014, when a Bill allowing polygamy was passed by our Parliament. If you’re married to a Kenyan man, he can bring home the other woman without your consent – and with the government’s blessings.

One MP, Junet Mohammed, even told her colleagues, “When you marry an African woman she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife..”

But the question is, why?

What do African men need with all these women? What good does it do to the women in the relationship or even the men themselves?

To answer that, I think one must tackle a more important question: What is the point of polygamy? What is the basis for it other than men wanting to have more than one ‘honey’ and a host of different places to sleep at night?

There have been a number of arguments for the role of polygamy within tradition, but none remains as strong as the core one: “It’s our culture”.

As much as we must pay homage to culture, we need to remember it is based on the needs of society and is not static. We must analyse if the reasons for having a particular tradition still hold true.

In the case of polygamy, one can see why the reasons for this practice no longer apply.

Firstly, the economy in Kenya is not what it used to be. The boom that we saw at the beginning of the Kibaki regime has stalled, halted (and some say even reversed) in the past years. The price of food has risen and there is barely enough money going around for people to run one household, let alone two, three or four. Having one household is not a cultural or moral issue; it is just good business sense.

What tends to happen to the average woman in a polygamous relationship is that one household suffers at the expense of another. When one household starts living the good life (cars, expensive schools, holidays etc), funds are diverted from another household. The man benefits regardless of which wife has these ‘perks’, but it’s not an equal arrangement for the women (and children) involved.

On argument that stems from ‘pre-colonial times’ is that polygamy was a way of empire-building. A full house was a powerful house. Children were seen as a source of wealth. However, in this day and age, one need only look at the price of higher education and the children-turned-adults who live with their parents for extended periods of time, sometimes till the ripe old age of 30. Children are not the investment they used to be.

Furthermore, with the rise of absentee fathers in our society, one must question whether men can really be entrusted with the responsibility of parenting children in multiple households when some can barely manage being a father in one.  The strange thing is that these very men who are already negligent of their parental responsibilities are the most vocal about wanting multiple households.

Other reasons for polygamy hold equally as little weight:

  • It is a form of birth control for women: No, we have the pill now.
  • For political alliances: Now you can merely join your local political party. They will handle the alliances on your behalf. Or you can run for office yourself.
  • Agricultural manpower: Children helped farm the earth for food. Well, try going to your local supermarket today with more than two family members and then explain this to me as a justification for polygamy.
  • For male sexual gratification: Now this one is a good one. The world has gone through waves of sexual revolutions and women are no longer passive participants in sex.  The statistics are that a large majority of heterosexual women have never had an orgasm. Handle one woman first, then we can talk.

And if we are going to have polygamy then why can we not have polyandry? If men can be seen to run more than one household then, in the spirit of gender equality, should the same courtesy not be extended to women? Give the average woman an Excel spreadsheet, a car with fuel and some stretching exercises to keep limber and in top shape and watch her show you what running more than one household is about.

A great number of households already suffer from a chronic case of absentee fathers and ‘men-missing-till-midnight’ syndrome. Should we really then institutionalise a practice that is already being somewhat abused? Or could this law possibly strengthen the entire sordid situation by giving women and children who remain in vulnerable situations legal rights?

Could this law possibly be a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, register them’?

I believe there are many men who do not understand the emotional, financial and social responsibilities that come with polygamy. We need to figure out why exactly polygamy is so important outside of being ‘part of tradition’. And if we cannot answer this question then we should not be engaging in polygamy.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter@tiffmugo

CT Jazz Fest: Where were the other African artists?

“Africa’s grandest gathering” was the tagline for the 15th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) held last week. Having attended it, I can see why. The magnitude of the event was awe-inspiring, bringing in people from around the world. The streets were packed, there was not a spare hotel room in the city and the cab drivers made a killing.

(Pic: Jonas Gwangwa)
(Pic: Jonas Gwangwa)

However, despite the grand nature of the event I have to question its lack of an African focus. There were only three African countries represented at the event. We had Moh Dediouf from Senegal, Frank Paco Art Ensemble and Jaco Maria from Mozambique, and a slew of South African artists.

The rest were from a host of western countries including the Netherlands.  I am not completely sure when the Netherlands became titans in jazz, but there they were.

The question is: Why is it that in order to make things ‘grand’ and more prominent in Africa we need to add the ‘international element’ and constantly overlook our own African talent?

Although I understand the commercial need for an international heavyweight (Erykah Badu as the headliner brought in the crowds), the festival seems to rarely engage with other African acts –  a fact that was mentioned during the preceding workshops and talks held before the actual event. This means that festival organisers sometimes play hard and loose with what can be considered ‘jazz’. Case in point: the presence of English rock band Level 42. Talk about an effective way of clearing out an auditorium.  Jazz lovers poured out of the main stage area and filled the outside streets. The first night of the jazz festival was officially done when the rock chords were hit.

Acts from the USA and the UK dominated the numbers. With some of the South African acts, there were repeat offenders who had appeared as recently as the previous year.  The organisers could have at least waited for them to produce a new album before putting them back on the stage.

Furthermore, anyone who knows the South African music scene (especially the Afro Jazz scene) knows that there are more than enough Afro Jazz musicians with fresh acts every year. Allowing old acts meant there was less space for other African acts, both from within South Africa and beyond.  The legendary Simphiwe Dana or even  up-and-coming young talent such as Ugandan saxophonist Brian Mugenyi could have been worthy additions to the line-up.

Why was there a need to reload old acts while filling in other slots with miscellaneous acts from the Netherlands and Australia, with artists many have never heard of?  I am all for redefining the meaning of jazz and growing one’s repertoire of music but sometimes there is a fine line between being eclectic and being out of place.

If the CTIJF wanted to promote new jazz acts, there is certainly no lack of regional and local acts that could fill the slots whilst also pushing the boundaries.

You only need to look at the host of events popping up around the continent to know there is a minefield of talent. At the Safaricom Jazz Festival in Kenya in February, Richard Bona from Cameroon headlined. The beautiful thing about this concert was that all of the acts were from Africa. The Zanzibar Music Festival (Sauti za Basuraalong with the fringe events in Basura Xtra is held each year as a celebration of East African music, showing that there is an abundance of talent on the continent that needs to be tapped into.

The Cape Town Jazz Fest is truly one of Africa’s biggest music festivals but I don’t believe it has showcased enough musicians from the continent, which is sad as the array of musical talent remain largely untapped at this point.

To acknowledge the depth of talent is to struggle with the entrenched idea that we must look outside to find the best and the brightest.  The festival showed that Africans have the potential to redefine an age-old genre. Moh Dediouf, a Senegalese musician in a sequinned dashiki, accompanied by a saxophone and his back-up singers in traditional Zulu jewellery, brought a certain flavour to the festival that is not seen anywhere else.

With festivals like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival going from strength to strength, there is potential to build a billion-dollar industry right here on the continent rather than always having to go and beg for affirmation on the ‘international stage’. It would be great to be at the centre of a genre rather than constantly being relegated to the realms of ‘world music’ a la the Grammys.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter: @tiffmugo