I live 200 meters from where one of the Generals in Ethiopia’s failed coup d'état over the weekend was killed. We believe we heard the gunshots, from our bedrooms. By we, I mean my teenage son and me.
He is not sure he heard it, but I think I did. Maybe it is my imagination, but all day since Sunday the tents have been up at the home of one of the late Generals and hundreds are coming to pay their condolences. From a distance I have paid mine, sending prayers to the families affected, and praying for the souls of the departed.
Like many in the country, I have no clear information to make any conclusion. I stand with Ethiopians in the unease of the situation. The internet has been turned off since Saturday night. This is after it was turned off for almost two weeks for the national examinations. My son is taking online classes, so his classes are interrupted and have been for close to two weeks.
Amid this lack of internet access, I am managing a huge bill from the only internet provider in the country, the bill is for three days roaming in Dubai. The bill is incorrect, but it may not be easy convincing the company of this, it is the only game in town.
I am exhausted. If I sound like I am all over the place, that is because I am all over the place. I am usually the perky positive kind, but watching my son tell me he could not take it any more got me. And my son loves Ethiopia, his favorite dish is injera and doro wot. He walks around puffed up that Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized. He talks about the 1986 battle of Adwa when Ethiopia defeated Italy with so much pride you would think he led the Ethiopian army. He has so many Ethiopian friends that we joke he could win an election as the Mayor of Addis Ababa.
But he has been looking at me with worry, just like he did when we were stationed in Abuja, Nigeria and we heard the bomb blast from our bedrooms from a crowded bus station on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on April 14, 2014.
It was the outskirt, but not really an outskirt, we heard the bomb blast from our bedrooms in Asokoro, maybe that too was my imagination. I visited the site the next day and it was less than 10 minutes’ drive away. More than 70 people were killed in that bomb blast.
We looked at each other the same way while watching the news on the Nairobi Westgate Mall attack of September 2013. We watched it from Abuja having been posted out of Nairobi 10 months before. We watched it in shock because Westgate was our favorite social hangout place; the Artscafe at Westgate was our favourite restaurant. We spent all weekends and evenings after work and school at the mall.
Life as an international humanitarian aid work merges the personal and the professional, the public and personal. It can be very difficult to separate these because your work is your place.
But I remain positive about Ethiopia. When I was posted to the country three years ago, my Dad congratulated me saying, `you are off to the capital of Africa.’ The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is here in Addis Ababa, the African Union Commission (AUC) is in Addis Ababa.
As the country went through its political transition last year, my Dad predicted that Ethiopia will come out stronger from the process, I agree, I have witnessed it in the last 12 months with the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. In my Dad’s prediction, “Ethiopia, with centuries of sophisticated regimes, will always pull through.” I agree.
I am wallowing in my blueness right now, I know. I will find my perky positivity tomorrow, I am certain. It is easy to stay positive in Ethiopia, the country has my heart and always will. The history, rich history, the questioning kindness of the people and their passionate love for their country will pay off positively in the end. I believe in this country.
I speak openly about being divorced. I put it out there that I am a single mother. I have had one or two friends; Nigerian women, who have advised that perhaps I should not go public with this status, but I say noooo.
Those of us who are divorced; happily, divorced and blessed to be raising kids as single parents must speak openly about it. The narrative of marriage as the ultimate goal and end game for the Nigerian woman is sadly the reason Nigerian women stay in loveless and abusive marriages and relationships.
According to an article in The Guardian published in January 2018, `Despite high levels of violence within relationships in Nigeria, wedding vows are still regarded as sacred, and women are urged to stay with bullying husbands.’ The article noted that marriage in Nigeria is regarded as `a prized attainment, and there is a powerful social stigma around reporting violence, or, worse still, leaving your husband.’ A survey `found that 43% of women believe a husband is justified in beating his wife for a number of reasons, including going out without telling him, or neglecting the children.’
Women in Nigeria are celebrated in communities and religious institutions as successful women by how long their marriages lasted or have lasted, and how much perseverance to abuse they demonstrated. Yes, a long and happy marriage is successful, but the longevity of a marriage does not make a successful marriage.
Those of us who live successfully and happily with a different story must speak up. We must let women know of the many ways we are and can be successful. Yes, it would have been great if my marriage had lasted, but it is great that I am living a great life as a single woman than a miserable married one.
So, this is it: I am a Happily Divorced Single Woman and Parent, and in the words of late Maya Angelo, HEAR ME ROAR.
From 2002 – 2007, I worked with Sandi Hill my First Nations sister-friend from Sixth Nations in Ontario Canada, to raise awareness on the plight of missing Aboriginal women.
We traveled through Canada, attending and organizing vigils and marches. Today, it humbles me to see how the movement has grown, and how Canada is rising to take accountability for this. The `Sisters in Spirit’ campaign was launched over a decade ago to raise awareness about the alarming rate of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada, including high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
A study by the National Institute of Justice found 84 per cent of Native American and Alaska native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. The report is the outcome of two and a half years ordered by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It comes after two and a half years of work by the ordered by Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. According to the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, around up to 4,000 indigenous women and girls have disappeared or been murdered in Canada since the 1970s.
Sandi Hill, my Sister-friend, passed away in 2009. It breaks my heart that she did not live to see this day, but always, I am always in gratitude for the gift of our friendship. This was my statement at her passing a decade ago. In the light of the new development of the `Sisters in Spirit Campaign’, I thought to share it.
Written in 2009
Statement on the passing of my Friend and Sister – Sandi Hill
From: Choice Okoro
This is perhaps the shortest statement I have written while spending the most time on it. I started writing this message many times and stopped; staring at the page and/or into space. In the face of the passing of a loved one, it is indeed important to be in a space of acceptance and gratitude for the times we spent with them on earth.
And I am indeed grateful for the privilege I have had to spend time with Sandi while she was here with us on earth. But I always thought I will have more time for fellowship with her; she was more than a friend and colleague; she was my sister.
Sandi’s passing has left me with shock and a sense of loss that I cannot shake. To a large extent, this is because I did not have the chance to tell her how much I appreciated my times and work with her.
Sandi was a friend and sister. I cannot recall any that I have laughed with as much as I have done with Sandi. I admired her more than words could say. She had courage to stay positive in the midst of the pain and tribulations she suffered as an Aboriginal woman in Canada. In one way she struggled to work with the Church in finding healing for herself and her people. I walked with her to some distance as she found the most authentic way to work with the Church in resolving issues of cultural diversity.
She inspired me to be authentic in the work I did on Sisters in Spirit – An imitative for justice for missing Aboriginal women and to End violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. We traveled through Canada together on the Sisters in Spirit Campaign. That journey brought some measure of healing for Sandi. She gave me the privilege to see the issue from her eyes and that gave me hope.
Above all she encouraged me to travel the path of a single mother. She loved Jason and would ensure that Jason celebrated Christmas in ways she never did. We spent the Christmas of 2006 with Jason wondering if the mysterious Santa wasn’t really John, Sandi’s partner. Jason is still unsure. Sandi spent many occasions jumping up and down with Jason and `screaming sugar what a buzz’ after loading Jason with candies amidst my protest.
There is no word to explain how much I miss my friend and sister and regret that I did not get the chance to tell her so while she was here on earth with us.
I will miss you my dear friend and Sister. One thing helps me come to terms with your passing; I know you have finally found the peace that may have eluded you here on earth.
`But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary: they shall walk and not faint.’ Isaiah 40:31
On 31 March 2019, Los Angeles-based African-American rapper, songwriter and entrepreneur Ermias Joseph Asghedom, known professionally as Nipsey Hussle was gunned down outside his clothing company by another African-American. Hussle originally from Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, was renowned in the rap world as a community empowerment activist.
Amongst the many gestures to celebrate his life and show solidarity with his family was the establishment of a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $100,000 for Nipsey's children. Nipsey’s family expressed gratitude for this gesture but rejected the fund-raising initiative.
The family explained that Nipsey left his family financially secure, so the charity gesture was not necessary. The GoFundMe has been taken off the internet. Nipsey was a savvy businessman who owned all his master recordings, his Marathon Clothing store, and who established multiple trust funds to make sure his kids and family would never need a handout.
Last year, India rejected humanitarian aid for disaster relief in the flood-stricken southern state of Kerala. In the past 14 years, India has refused aid from Russia, US and Japan for Uttarakhand floods in 2013, and for the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and floods in Kashmir in 2014. India has remained committed to its policy of not accepting disaster aid from foreign countries but instead depending solely on domestic resources.
This policy emerged out of the humanitarian response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 by then prime minister Manmohan Singh. Since then, this position has increasingly positioned India more as an aid donor and less as aid recipient.
The world watched the politicization of humanitarian assistance as Venezuela opposing leaders used humanitarian aid in their fight for political legitimacy. Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro, rejected aid on grounds that accepting aid would turn Venezuela into a country of “beggars.” Opposing leader Juan Guaidó linked his effort to legitimize his Presidency to the urgent need for humanitarian aid to Venezuela claiming that the humanitarian assistance trucks stuck in Colombia are intended for lifesaving.
This would not be the first time Venezuela is rejecting aid. `After a devastating flood in Venezuela in 1999, the government rejected emergency aid from the U.S, arguing that receiving aid would a threat to national sovereignty. While over 50 countries gathered to implore Venezuela to receive aid, many groups from Latin America applauded President Maduro’s decision to reject aid.
In Cuba, groups of students, intellectuals, unions and social leaders collected signatures in support of Venezuela and President Nicolas Maduro. In Paraguay, a similar group delivered a "letter to the Paraguayan government", requesting the respect of the Venezuelan people's right to self-determination. In Ecuador, at least 100 representatives of journalists, artists, politicians and social movements rallied in support of foreign intervention of any kind.
Charlotte Dany in reflecting why on humanitarian aid is rejected at the 7th European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference in Bordeaux France noted that: “At least sixteen cases can be identified, in which states – autocracies and democracies alike – rejected humanitarian aid after severe natural disasters since the mid-1980s.’’ She observed further that between 1984 – 2012 some of these countries included Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, India, Russia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia. Not one of these countries is from Africa.
I have visited many communities mainly in Africa supposedly starving but discarding bags of food aid, mainly one form of grains or the other, shipped in from the West. In one instance, this community refused to accept the distribution of red sorghum because it is difficult to mill and/or to boil for consumption. Boiling red sorghum requires high heat, a lot of energy and firewood which the drought affected community did not have. Knowing this, the Western country continues to ship red sorghum to these people and the government receives it and stores it in warehouses unused.
A special message to African countries dependent on humanitarian aid/funding annually without reflecting on what this says about national statements of growth and economic aspiration; appealing for humanitarian aid makes a louder statement.