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Akinyi: Okay, let’s start I’m like really nervous. You look so amazing. Thank you. Okay, let me begin. So Hello everyone, my name is Akinyi Obama-Manners and I’m 24 years old and I am a Youth:Present representative. I am passionate about working with children and young people to positively impact their lives by using art to allow for self-expression and creative thinking. For example, I’ve been working at Sauti Kuu Foundation in Kenya since 2019, where I helped develop the arts and creativity project activities and I work with toddlers and young people in an early childhood development program in a Nice Ju children’s village in Kenya. Today, I’m delighted to be speaking with Hafsat Abiola today and to learn more about her life, her work, and her engagement with the World Future Council. By way of introduction, Hafsat Abiola-Costello sorry, excuse me, is a human and civil rights campaigner and was appointed June 5, 2018, as the Executive President of Women in Africa Initiative. This initiative is dedicated to the economic development and support of leading and high potential African women. She is also the founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, which seeks to strengthen civil society and promote democracy in Nigeria. In 2008, she founded China Africa Bridge, an organization that seeks to ensure that growing African ties benefit between the continent and China. Hafsat received the Youth Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission in 1997, the State of the World’s Forum Changemaker Award in 1998, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Leader of Tomorrow Award 2000. Since 2008, she has been a Council member of World Future Council. Welcome to The Good Council Hafsat. How have you been like, it’s so great to see you again.
Hafsat: I’ve been really I think, under a lot of stress. As of Monday, I just went for my final divorce court date. So huge, huge thing. It’s kind of sad to put to bed a dream of a wonderful marriage, but I think it’s also in inspiring, at least for me to put to bed, something that did not work, you know, sometimes you just have to do that because you don’t think something’s working you think that well, let’s keep trying to make it work. But if it’s not going to work, it’s sometimes a good idea to put it to rest so that you create space for other things.
Akinyi: Yeah, and I think also especially now since Corona, it’s definitely a time of New Age kind of like rebirth for everyone.
Hafsat: Yes, yeah. So, in a way that whole process has been on one hand, empowering. And the other it’s been stressful because I’m having to move physically from where I was living with my now ex-husband, to my new home. But it’s also been it’s also been a time for reflection. I really am thinking also about I’ve been thinking a lot about Virginia Woolf. And I’ve still never gotten around to reading the book “A room of one’s one”. But I began to realize how important it is that women have spaces of their own. I think that we do so many things differently. And the world needs the balance between the male and female energies. And when I say the balance between the male and female energies, I’m not talking about an institution like marriage, where oftentimes the female energy has been subsumed into a preexisting framework. I’m talking about real partnership, where both energies coexist in equal power, because I think that that then allows for the full expression of what’s positive.I’ve been thinking a lot about that even now, as we think of them. You now, there’s so much pressure and push for women to go into leadership. And what does this mean? I can eat? When I think of my you know, and my experience of my marriage is actually genuinely very positive, because I am married to an extremely progressive person, when I think of the institution of marriage, and the institution of government and power, and corporate power, and all the various forms of power. And we’re saying that women should go away, if we’re not careful, all they’ll do is just go and be submerged. When what the world needs, is the ability to go in and transform. And I think that we need to be thinking of how women create spaces, that allows us to hold on to our power, so that we have the full capacity to transform dysfunctional spaces, instead of just going into encouraging women to go into spaces, where then they’ll just be a number a quarter, and we’ll say we have 25% or 30%. But what’s still the outcome in terms of the allocation of resources and innovation, the appropriation of benefits? Is it more egalitarian? Is it more democratic? Is it more life sustaining or not? So, I think that I want us to begin, and especially, you know, in the end, it was because of your generation, that I was bullish around this question about divorce, not because of myself, because actually, the way that we’re raised in Nigeria, and particularly my culture, the Yoruba culture, from a very young age, girls are trained that way. So it was, you have to be like cool water. So even when you are in a hot situation, if you’re very, if you cool enough, you call the situation, you know, because we really trained to stay calm, and to absorb quite a lot. And I could have continued absorbing any number of things, when I thought of two children that I have my son and my daughter, but I want them to have the example of equal coexistence between male and female energy. And I want that given to them in such a clear and compelling way. Why do I say that? My mom died when she was 44 years old. I was at the time she died, I was about 21, I was going to turn 22. So, she has been that I’m going to be 50 very soon, in three years, I’ll be 50. So, she’s been dead for more than half of my life. And yet, I can tell you that whenever I have a question about anything, I feel my mother, I feel like voice. I just feel her like sitting beside me. And then we look at the problem together. And then I just realizing it’s just going to be this way. And you know, we’re Africans and Africans, we believe very much in the ancestors in the journey that I’ve taken just even in the last few months. So, find a new place to stay, or go to a place and they’ll say, you know, maybe they’d look at me and see this black African woman and they just wouldn’t give me the apartment. Finally, finally, if you see the place I finally found, it is so perfect in every way. The gentle children love it. It’s just walking distance from their school. It’s so perfect, and I don’t think I found it. I think the ancestors looked at the problem that I had. And they said have such as continue to conduct ourselves in the way in which we put her and so they went ahead, and I took care of everything. And so that’s why I want to make the example as compelling. Because who knows when you’re going to go in this era of COVID? People, you, you, you hear that somebody isn’t feeling well and 24 hours later that the person died. If anything were to happen, I would, no matter how long ago I left, at the gentle children, whenever they faced with a question, I should have a very clear understanding about what their mother would have wanted them to do. I think it’s so important that we live, that our lives be a clear message, that there should never be any confusion as to what our priorities are. And that we’re here, not for ourselves, but to really uphold the human spirit in the very, very best possible way.
Akinyi: Now, it’s so inspiring to me, how you talk about your mother and her role and her legacy in your life. So, what did you learn from your mother? And what might she have learned from us?
Hafsat: So, when I was very young, I’m not just an introvert, which is kind of extrapolating as I said, I’m a learner. So, I am very, on this whole water thing. My Water is very cool, extremely cool. I remember one day, someone slapped me and someone younger than me. She was upset and she slapped me and my mother, so my mother came to hear about it. Now I didn’t do anything when the person did that, because I just thought clearly, she must be upset. And that’s why she’s done that. My mother blew a gasket. She could not believe that allowed someone to slap me that I allowed someone to slap me. I hadn’t even thought about retaliation in any way. In fact, I didn’t even want to do that. My by my nature is just very relaxed. In fact, I just think Oh, poor girl. She’s so upset. And I’m given a Maven to thinking how to help her not to be so upset. Yeah. Then I remember the tools actually very cool native as I work. In fact, I have low blood pressure. She used to have low blood pressure when she was alive. So, because we just we just take it just takes more energy more to happen for me to be Want to in order to get any otherwise, I’m just happy going through life. And my mother taught me something at that moment that it was important for me not to allow people to walk all over me. Because let myself I’m actually perfectly comfortable with that. I have no problem with that. Because I mean, if somebody is walking all over you, maybe the person needed something to walk on. I mean, it, that’s just kind of my mentality, I’m doing very well, because my mother taught me that. Essentially, she was teaching me to stand up for myself because she got upset. And she spoke to me and scolded me. And essentially said, you have to learn to stand up for yourself. So, I think that’s the big lesson I learned from my mother is that I have to stand up for myself. that’s my daughter, because we’re invading our bedroom actually, sorry. You know, she was, she was, she felt very much that I shouldn’t allow that to happen. And actually, that has really helped me in my life. Because I think, just because it doesn’t really matter to you, isn’t actually a good reason to allow somebody to do something that isn’t respectful of you. Just because you can take it and it doesn’t really bother you so much, doesn’t mean you should allow it because because it’s also not good for that person, for you to allow them to power in a way that is limiting for others. It’s not good for them. And maybe if they are, if you allow them and they go on to do it to someone else, the person’s reaction will be so balanced and so aggressive. Whereas you because you notice that they’ve crossed the line. And because you say you stay so even tempered, maybe you’re the best person to say to them that that you’ve crossed a line, you shouldn’t cross that kind of line, we shouldn’t do that. And so I learned that from my mom. And I’ve been learning to stand up for myself. And the other thing I learned about standing up for myself. I don’t know where I learned this at you want to say that? It wasn’t from my mom, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know. But I don’t want to say I learned that when you want to respond. Okay, two things. Number one, when you want to respond, it’s extremely important that you are not reacting, but you are responding. So when you react is like somebody still have to do to just slap the president back and you start you know, fighting, that’s a reaction. Yeah. I set the terms for your engagement, and you have gone along with the term that I’ve been sexually. Where does power lie? Sorry. So my daughter has to collect something from a room. So we’re sorry to have invaded your space? By Zoe by Bella. So um, you know, it’s something I’m not I lost my train of thought, if something happens and you, you are not, and you follow the framework that has been created. You remember this quotation? Oh, I haven’t shared the quotation with you that slavery is not African history, slavery, interrupted African history. So it’s as if you’ve allowed yourself to be interrupted. And you’re now going with the narrative from the person that has interrupted you? Well, when somebody is interrupted, you often don’t want to take you off course, maybe you are going in this particular direction, and it’s not in their best interest, that you continue in that direction. So they try to derail you push you off course. And you when you then get sidetracked, you’ve that you’ve allowed them to win, essentially. So it’s important not to do that. Yes, you don’t want to be taken advantage of by others. But in when you say that somebody is taking advantage of you, you have to be careful to give a complete response that is, but you must act in a way that advances your own cause. You’ll act in a way that furthers their cause, you know, somebody has slapped you, maybe that person is actually physically stronger. When you slap them that they’ll end up beating you up.
Akinyi: Yeah, exactly.
Hafsat: You know, what you’ve allowed them to set the terms of engagement along the terms that best events. But when you didn’t do that, when you just step back, and you look at what the person has done, when you consider what your options are, how to respond, there’s you holding on to your power, and then applying your power in the most responsible way. Because then you could come up with a solution that at least is good for you, at the minimum. And at the maximum, ideally is good for both of you. So you could have a conversation with that person. And then the person says, you know, I don’t know why I did that, I’m sorry, I’m going to check myself in the future, and you have a better understanding. So that I think is better, especially if you’re not physically as strong. Something else I wanted to say about that which is connected. It’s always better in any engagement. Wherever possible, the strongest power is in action. Not so much in words. So, if there’s something that we don’t like, like, we don’t like the way Africa is positioned in the global economy, but Africans spend so much time talking about the poverty in Africa, the challenges, I just think that that’s not what we should be doing. We should be spending as much time connecting me, Hafsat connecting to Akinyi, and seeing and doing research, how do we change that situation? That’s what our audience is not just an exhausting yourself, lamenting limitation. Now, what is it going to do for anybody? What is it ever done? But it’s the innovation, always holding on to hope, and always trusting that the God that made Caucasians and Asians is the same color that has made Africans and is not a God as much as found in us to poverty and misery. So that is a challenge that he has set before us, he has set because he knows we can meet the challenge, then we work to meet it. So, I think that, and when we move in that way, we then engage all the potential allies and say, here’s where we’re at what Africans are doing. We would love for you to partner with us. You know, when you look at the history of the world, we look at the audacity of British companies going to take over pretty much the subcontinent of India and run it as their own private system. Before it was actually a British company, not even the British state that did that the East India Company. Yeah, you know, and, and those people acted and then mobilized alliances to concrete concretize, that action? We are not doing that. And I think that’s the problem is not that they did it, is the fact that we don’t have enough belief in ourselves to also take action.
Akinyi: And I think it’s about like because I think power comes from within. So, it’s how you harness that power?
Hafsat: Completely agree.
Akinyi: I think that’s so important. And I think also with how like the pandemic has happened, and how things have slowed down, I think especially as like black women, we’re always taught, like, we’re so strong, you know, we fail through whatever adversity or whatever happens to us. And I think it’s important for us to, like, be able to, like, be soft, to be able to be sad, if we need to be sad, you know, to be able to, like, be, we don’t have to be strong all the time. And I think that’s also important in like getting into those leadership roles. Because I think, as well as like being a strong woman, you also need to like have, you need to have emotions, you need to be like emotional in the sense that you can like slow down, you can see things for what they really are not just like hard as that’s what like the word expects women to be because we’re strong, you know.
Hafsat: You know, to be honest with you, I think it even goes deeper than that, I think, you know, first we’re women, and that’s a big issue that we need to unpack. And we’re also black people, that’s also I think, and the world that we live in, in a way bigger. Consider, you know, there was one day, I went to the very first trip to another West African country, Cote d’Ivoire. And its sister of mine from my yacht. One of the French departments in that is an island of African, the African post. She convened so many of us together in this case. And there was this exhibition that she organized that a friend of hers had done, where they looked at the way in which story where they looked at the way in which they looked at the way in which black people have been presented over centuries. Actually, women followed that exhibition, it started playing. I didn’t know when they looked at was wanting to child, I think I need to go in a zoo in a pen in a zoo, and all these people around her looking at her, like the way we look at monkey, you go to the zoo and over a banana. Then there was even another woman with a child that she was carrying and another child standing beside her and we’re going looking at this family, then the woman that they took from South Africa, Lucy I think she had a very big one. And I think that took her to France. And she was on a tour, she was put on a circuit, and people would come from all over to local, especially because of our bond, because he had a very big gun. You know, when she death, she wasn’t giving any dignity because they now did this effort to find out, you know, to call her up to study our body. When President Mandela will go to South Africa to France, when he became president of South Africa, immediate requests that remains should begin Even back to the people of South Africa. So she could be probably very. I think you, you know, there was another time I read about the Second World War. And Winston Churchill in England, you know, he, you know, Africans as colonial subjects that being part of that war as soldiers, Nigeria, in many countries, Kenya. But at the end, when they were doing the march into England, the victory march into England, Winston Churchill made the decision that the Africans should come in last, so that by this time, most of the crowd would have gone and then they wouldn’t have to acknowledge that Africans had contributed to helping them win that war. We think it’s always interesting for us, when you hear about things like this, we think, well, how could that have happened? And that’s wrong? I think we should think differently, I think, you know, how are those kinds of things happening even today? In what ways are Africans being continually objectified? In what ways? Are we not getting the rewards of our labor? Because I think sometimes, those kinds of practices, we think are colonization, it went on. And in the, from 1958, when Ghana secured independence, the countries in Africa became started to become independent. But we don’t think of the kind of mindset that shaped those kinds of political systems, and the fact that those mindsets still exist. So I think you know, that we need to realize that colonization or frameworks are like the tip of the iceberg that we can see below the iceberg is even a larger body of values, ideas, beliefs about other people. So that even if you take care of the colonization as a framework, and say, we let’s get this country to be independent, you will continually have the children, the offspring of that kind of mindset, that would also be degrading, dehumanizing for the people affected. So, I want us to take that approach. And because if we take that approach, we become more critical, less accepting, more insistent on evidence, more insistent on data, more insistent on looking at actual results, and not to be overwhelmed and overtaken by pronouncements, you know. I’m here in Belgium, which is just a wonderful country. But you know, one of their stories was when they came at the colony, in very hot continents. And he wanted to meet a certain quota for rubber. So to make sure that the Africans could deliver this quarter, their hands were cut their feet, my car, if they fail to deliver even that of their children. Now, when you think about that, and then you think about how the country gained its independence, and what happened right after that to the first democratically elected president, and the fact that till today, Congo is the poorest black, poorest country in Africa. Even though they have coltan, which is an essential and strategic resource used for every mobile phone, then you can see the long history and how we continue the has an impact. So what I don’t want is for us to feel like oh, we’re all looking at us were victims. Woe is us, everybody is against us. Because that’s not true. From the experience of slavery, through the experience of colonization, through the experience of neoliberal economics on our different countries and economies. We’ve had allies in the rest of the world will stood with us. But I think also that my challenge actually is that within the continent, so few realize that we need allies. So few realize that we’re still in a battle. They still Besant to say, Oh, it’s all about our governments now and the governments to do what they need to do, but it’s more than our governments. It’s always been more than the continent, because the continent and the people of the continent are considered to be special reserves of others. And I think this is where we need to begin to address a lack of true sovereignty, then I think that we need to recognize that as Africans, There was this beautiful quote from Toni Morrison, where she said, the big, the big, the big motive of racism is distraction. So they tell you, you don’t have a history and you start doing research to prove you have a history, when they tell you don’t have a language show to prove that you were done there, you exist in all this. And I think we need to remember that our goal as Africans is not to prove our humanity to anyone. Our goal, as Africans is to be present in the world, on equal terms with others. And so we should keep our eye on that prize. That what does the world need to have expressed today that we as Africans can also support the expression of and not get distracted by all these efforts, many centuries in the making to dehumanize and degrade us.
Akinyi: That was really, like, incredible to listen to. Like I’ve just like lost for words. Like I can listen to you all day. So now I want to know more about you. And so, my first question is, what did you want to be when you were a child?
Hafsat: When I was young, I wanted to be a diplomat. And I told my dad, that I want to be a diplomat, because I had gotten into Georgetown School of Foreign Service. I applied early from high school. And I said to my dad, but I want to go there because I want to be a diplomat. And my father paused. And he said, what kind of husband will you marry gallivanting around the world? The funny thing is that, if not for COVID, I would still be gallivanting around the world, because when he won the political presidential election in Nigeria, and this was decades ago, in 1993, and then the military put him in jail. And my mother had to begin to lead the pro-democracy efforts. At that moment, I became an activist, I started traveling, to speak for a cause for democracy, I was traveling all over the United States, through Canada, through the United Kingdom, everywhere we went to Germany, to price our case. And then afterwards, I became involved, I created an organization in Nigeria to empower women and young people to participate in that democracy, and kept traveling because of that., because I’ll be invited to Sweden, I’ve been invited. I was working on a youth employment campaign to help generate millions of jobs for young people around the world. So, we would be holding a summit in Egypt would all the summit in India, you know, so I was always traveling. And I always remember that my father said, you know, what kind of husband because I did find your husband over now. My ex husband, but also, because I think that’s ultimately the worst. I mean, I don’t represent any government. But oh, it’s saying that my internet is unstable, I hope returned to conversation. But it doesn’t, you know, I don’t represent any government. But as president of women in Africa, I represent African women. And I’m having to travel, engage with partners, engage with sponsors, and advocate for women’s economic empowerment. So, I think I ended up doing actually exactly what I wanted to do.
Akinyi: Yeah, for sure. And I think also, because through your work, you’re promoting the development of women, as initiators of change through leadership and awareness programs, for examples through founding the Kudirat initiative for democracy, which is named after your mother. Why did you name after your mother?
Hafsat: I liked that woman so much. Yeah, in my brain, great human being. And when the military gunned her, down on the streets of Lagos, because she was organizing the democratic effort, I wanted to let the military know that they had not silenced that voice. So created, because she’s a very kind lady. I just needed the acronym kind of starts with a case of I made it easier, and that I could write initiative for Nigerian democracy. And then I th