get a taste of the queer african dream cabinet
June 13, 2019
Africa is such a beautiful and frustrating place. We have to find a way to not become paralyzed by our circumstances as the mule of the world while also not allowing any type of victim mentality to make us blind to our own bullshit — as there is plenty of it. Let’s start with the treatment of the African LGBTQ+ community. The rampaging phobias often mandated by the state incite worry about the safety and health of LGBTQ+ Africans, giving less space to ask the questions like “where are the Queer African leaders?” Queer Africans have fought against colonization across the continent and now, in a continent that is supposed to be free from colonization, their fight is still not over. The fight to be free and visible on a continent not free or seen in the world is a tragedy that can only be counteracted by the sheer force and light of manifestation.
Thus, I give you an imagining of sorts of my dream African queer cabinet: the queer Africans who have carved a voice into the touchstone of their country and the continent. These are the artists and figures who, without much means and political power, achieved more for Africans than many African leaders could dare to claim. Their work depicts a vision of the kind of Africa we all want our children to grow up in. They are the spirit of the kind of decolonization work and healing praxis that Africans deserve.
These visionaries are witty wordsmiths that can drag the entire Western literary establishment, like my first Queer African Cabinet Minister, Binyavanga Wainaina. If Africa had a State Of The Union, Wainaina’s biting masterpiece How To Write About Africa would be read at the beginning of every session. It is the manifesto of the frustration associated with not only being African but carrying the perception of Africa that “one-dimensional” doesn’t even cover.
“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.” –How To Write About Africa
Minister Wainaina’s masterclass in the art of dragging through prose was directed mainly at the world of Western literature specifically but it was an indictment of The West in its entirety and personally, I would love an African leader who has no issues telling the Beckys and Brians with passports where to get off. The boot of colonization hasn’t fully lifted off Africa’s neck and that reality requires courageous leadership — the kind that comes from merely fighting to be yourself in your homeland like Queer Africans have to do. When Wainaina came out as gay in 2014, it was a significant moment for gay visibility in Kenya and the African continent as a whole. As a revered writer and journalist, Wainaina whittled away the distance created between “African” and “queer” and he wasn’t the only Kenyan on my Queer cabinet to shake the table for LGBTQ+ rights on the continent.
Rafiki, a Kenyan lesbian love story written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, became an international sensation after taking its a place as the first Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, all the while being banned in Kenya because same-sex relationships are banned under the country’s colonially inherited constitution. Kahiu fought for her film in glorious fashion by petitioning a Kenyan court to allow the film to play for the 7 days required for it to be considered for Oscar contention. The conversations about homophobia in Kenya were re-ignited to the point where the country now had an international audience zeroing in on the plight of queer Kenyans — that impact came about through the sheer will and passion of Kahiu. That is a leader who recognizes the power of visibility and as a Minister my esteemed Queer African Cabinet, Minister Kahiu’s ability to not only look toward the future but guide her fellow man that is the kind of vision I want creating our new inclusive Africa and its leadership.
The next Minister to grace the Queer African Cabinet is more of a King, if we’re going to be accurate. Thandiswa Mazwai, aka King Tha, brings South African zealousness and a powerful musical presence to the leadership. A giant in the South African music industry, the musical icon started out as the lead singer of Kwaito music group Bongo Maffin. Thandiswa on stage is like witnessing the Church of King Tha in session — it is transcendence. When she went solo in 2006 with her solo album Zabalaza, her legacy as a musician was cemented as the soulful town crier of a generation grappling with the reality of the fight against the damage of apartheid not being officially. Buried in her music are themes of tradition and history as well as boundless artistry that celebrates the essence of the expansive terrain of African resistance.
“The world changes, Revolutionaries die, And the children forget…” is the first line of “Nizalwa Ngobani” (“Who Raised You”) — an anthem lamenting the fading memory of resistance and its leaders in the psyche of the South African youth. Ms. Maya Angelou told us to “tell the truth” and “tell it to the children” as a way to pass on the truth and ensure it does not die with us. King Tha lives that mandate in her artistry and we need leaders that remind us to honor the sacrifices of our predecessors as a way of remembering how far we have come as well of acknowledging the power within us to keep going. After all, freedom is defined by those who show up to fight for it.
Queer Africans are led and I could go on for thousands of words to prove it. Artists shape the world and often, our aspirations for it and what better people to put in charge than those who look first to the fringes of society to uncover the drowned out voices. The Queer African Cabinet is the essence of what politics is supposed to embody — the notion of servant leadership. Artists and activists like Wainaina, Kahiu and Tha speak to the underserved narrative of the impact of queer Africans on the continent and the world, envisioning a version of their home that is no antithesis to any person or place, but an entire world on its own, waiting to be created for all of those who live in it.
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