Struggles for the promised land: Letters from West African sisters
2012-05-10, Issue 584
The following letters are part of a moving and insightful exchange between two women who have been respected leaders of citizen movements in West Africa for decades. These two friends are known for their wisdom, courage, creativity and unfailing commitment to justice, peace and the well-being of their respective countries, Guinea Bissau and Mali. This week, Pambazuka is pleased to share some of their personal correspondence following the coups d’état first in Mali in March and then in Guinea Bissau in April. The letters have been translated from French and are signed with pen names due to concerns for the safety of the women, their comrades and families during these very difficult times. (The original French version of the letters can be read at http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/82019
BISSAU, MAY 5, 2012
Dear friends at Pambazuka,
Thank you for the invitation to share some of the correspondence between my friend from Mali, Assénatou, and me.
Assénatou and I first met around common causes and struggles in our countries, Mali and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. We got to know each other within the citizens' movements for social justice in our continent, as we struggled for strategic ways and means to sustain the well being of our peoples and future generations. It is through these battles that we have become the great friends and true sisters that we are today.
I would like to share with you how my friend Assénatou, with her clarity, wisdom and courage, has supported and inspired our struggle in Guinea-Bissau by sharing with us her own journey and struggles in Mali.
And this connection does not end. It has continued and will continue between us, through e-mails and phone calls as the situations in our respective countries are changing and we feel the need to reinforce each other, to share friendship and tenderness. In this way we encourage each other, we inspire each other and we sustain trust in the future, even if it is still far away.
We would like to share our personal correspondence not because we find our story original or special. No, it is rather because we know that it is in fact commonplace – but it is taking place in the shadows. We would like to make visible these simple exchanges between two citizens of Africa who share their dreams, their pain, their hope and civic action to ensure that our continent becomes our promised land, the land where our children and our children’s children can live in peace and justice, solidarity and prosperity. And we want to encourage more exchanges and more demonstrations of solidarity among citizens of Africa, so the warmth and the embrace of friendship and fraternity among us are stronger and more perceptible, as those of other people throughout the world who already show us their sympathy and solidarity.
If the heads of African states are meeting in summits of ECOWAS and the African Union to seek solutions for our countries to the coups that have come back with force to our continent, bringing all kinds of violence and dirty business, and above all the deprivation of the civil and political rights of our peoples, then intellectuals and ordinary citizens of Africa should, in turn, find visible and tangible ways to demonstrate our own solidarity and commitment to take the lead and speak with one voice. To say loud and clear that NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT ON ANY GROUNDS, UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ANY IDEOLOGY, OR OF ANY RELIGION, TO TAKE THEIR PEOPLE HOSTAGE OR TO MAKE THEM A SCAPEGOAT! No one has the right to negotiate with force and impose conditions and false solutions that do not in any way meet the needs, interests and rights of the people they claim to represent and defend, but in reality torment. They are robbing their children’s futures, undermining their hopes and destroying their fondest dreams!
OUR CRY THAT WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH IS FOR ALL THESE ATTACKS AGAINST THE RIGHTS OF PRESENT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS to a homeland of peace and security where we can build our future and our well-being, with our own hands, our own heads and our own hearts.
MARCH 21, 2012: COUP D’ETAT IN MALI
Bissau, 22 March 2012
My dearest friend Assénatou,
I have tried several times to call you on the phone, but the line was always busy.
We have been worried ever since we heard the news last night of your country, Mali – which has been known as a reference for democracy in West Africa – now taken in turn by a coup d’état. Democracy is never won forever unfortunately. But these events still surprise us, because our memory is so short.
My mother is asking about you, for she too has heard on the radio about what is happening in Mali. My family is asking me how to reach you to send you a word. After trying to reach you by phone without success, I decided to send you this message by email to wish you courage – lots of courage – and patience. There is a Creole proverb that says, "All that begins, will end one day." Mali will find again the peaceful, democratic paths to resolve disputes among its people. May God breathe tolerance, generosity and wisdom into the hearts of the leaders and all the living forces of Mali, to open the way for democratic and inclusive dialogue, to rebuild the pillars of democracy in Mali, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of Malians for progress, especially for the young. We pray and we will continue to pray for Mali, and for Africa. For you and your family, for all African men and women who embrace their countries with heart.
Everyone here at home embraces you and sends you encouragement and wishes for peace in your country.
For my part, I embrace you with all my friendship and deepest solidarity,
Mali, April 5, 2012
Thank you for your friendship and solidarity. As they say it is in the difficult times that we know who our true friends are. I always appreciated the sincerity of our ties but these recent days have certainly given me even more confidence in our friendship.
My sister, we Malians are suffering in our hearts and bodies. But we have no right to despair and lamentation.
My days start early and end very late with so many meetings and consultations so that together we can lift our heads. It is hard, very hard when in the north of Mali, which is in the hands of the Tuareg (forces) and Islamists, women are being raped and burned alive for not covering their faces.
The ECOWAS embargo does not help at all; on the contrary, it further complicates the situation. Malians have become a martyred people subjected to a rebellion, an Islamist invasion and an embargo.
I think that by the weekend there may be a consensus among the military junta, civil society and the politicians.
Thank you for your prayers, and your solidarity, which will help our country to rise again.
Thank you for everything, my sister.
I embrace you all.
Bissau, April 9, 2012
Hello my very dear friend, Assénatou,
Thank you for your reply, which I have just now received, as I was away this weekend to spend a couple of days with the family in the countryside. It did us all good, to pull ourselves together given the tense situation that we are living through these days in Bissau. We returned on Saturday evening to spend Easter Sunday with Mama.
Thank you for sending us your news, despite the misfortune of the situation that Malians and Mali are going through. It's unbelievable and so disturbing that a country like Mali could experience such a rapid and violent deterioration of the conditions of human rights. And it is revolting and mind-boggling that it is always women who suffer the worst of the violence and outrages done to defenseless populations. I can’t get over it! Women raped and burned alive for not wearing the veil in Mali! We are witnessing the irreparable regression of human rights and peoples rights that took so much blood, sweat and centuries to build ... What can we do to stop all this?
As you must know, here also things are not going well at all. We're stuck with an election that all the politicians wanted to fast track to meet the deadlines set in the constitution and that almost all of them are now contesting with allegations of “electoral fraud”. I have had enough of these politicians who are always willing to come to an agreement to not agree, but never to come to an agreement to find a way forward or a solution. All the candidates claim to stand for peace and stability in the country, but all have agreed to oppose the results of the first round of these elections, even though everyone knows that even if there had been fraud, there would still be only two candidates (Cadogo and Kumba Yala) for the second round! But now the military has been given what they have always wanted, that is to say, justification for their intervention because politicians have not been able to come to agreement on a political exit from the crisis and the paralysis facing the country. Then it will be too late to do something to avoid major breakdowns... and from one catastrophe to another we run the risk of going in the same direction as the chaos in Mali now that serves the interests of only the men of hard hearts, taken hostage by hatred and violence...
When men reveal themselves to be beneath addressing the problems they have created, we turn to God ... This is why we pray constantly that God almighty will breathe compassion and wisdom into the hearts of our rulers and leaders as well as among men and women capable of influencing the course of history in the interests of the most disadvantaged of our people, those who suffer the most from this unbearable race toward ever increasing intolerance and violence.
Courage to all of us to live these difficult times with serenity, playing the role that is within our reach to sow peace and hope.
I embrace you with all my solidarity.
COUP IN GUINEA BISSAU, 12 APRIL 2012
Mali, 23 April 2012
Good evening my sister Maria,
I have not been able to call you lately because of the endless meetings.
Our situation is evolving very slowly on the political front but in terms of the humanitarian and security situation it's really a disaster, especially for the northern regions where rape and armed attacks continue. We hope by tomorrow we will have a government in place to address these burning issues.
I am also concerned about my second homeland, Guinea Bissau, and praying for all the men and women there.
Maria, I beg you to take this situation with some perspective. I believe that what we are going through is a necessary passage for countries that have never really known independence and therefore have also not known sovereignty. Under these conditions democracy, which requires the responsible participation of citizens in the management of our countries, is a pure fiction. Real participation and accountability require conditions of education and information. And education, information, and critical thinking have been rare commodities in our countries for a long time now. Under these conditions, the coups and other forms of violence remain possible.
In Mali it was not democracy that was making things work; it was rather the cultural values and the actions of courageous men and women close to the most vulnerable who sustained Mali. Politicians could continue their democratic farce as long as drugs, weapons and corruption did not break down this cultural rampart. Unfortunately they have taken the upper hand and it is women and children who are the first victims. Ordinary Malians and all who are far from this macabre reality hidden behind the veil of democracy are all taken aback by these events.
Today we must have a lucid understanding of all this, not just the coups d’états but going deeper to see above the fray, to bring meaning to this crucial moment in our history.
I am optimistic for our countries; we must understand that it is in these huge trials that our national cohesion is strengthened to endure.
I know you live your country as you live your own family. I beg you, keep all this in perspective, take the right decisions for you mother, your children and grandchildren.
Let us remain calm in our thoughts and our actions. Let us avoid negative information that encumbers our minds and prevents us from reflecting on our own.
My sister, take good care of yourself. Let us stay positive in our thoughts, we will survive.
May God keep us together.
I embrace you in sisterhood.
Bissau, 23 April 2012
My dearest friend Assénatou,
Thank you for your sage advice, my sister. I am looking after my family as well as I can. But my heart is in a deep sadness, because of what is happening in my country.
My children are well, engaged for their country with the weapons at their disposal (mostly Internet and Facebook, among friends around the world). They say they do not want to let their dreams fly away with their country ... We live in difficult times, where the rats have left the sewers to go after their part of the cake, some in military garb, others in suits and ties, others in traditional dress, but all stinking of greed and all using the name of the people in their more or less patriotic speeches... Ah! I will take the time, one of these days, when emergencies are less urgent and less is asked of my time, to bring out the pain and rebellion that my soul is hiding to write a testament as a woman, who like thousands of others from my country, have carried children in their wombs, have borne and suckled their babies, dreaming of a future in the land of their ancestors, of peace, dignity and prosperity. Those days are still very far away, unfortunately. I see the same stories repeated from generation to generation, because what I experienced with my children after the conflict in June 7, 1998, the fear, the revolt amidst almost total powerlessness, my daughter is now reliving with my grand daughter ... It hurts too much. It is just too painful. And that is why I cry from the depths of\my soul: “Enough! Enough!” And I will make my voice heard everywhere, together with other women, men and young people, shouting together and showing publicly that we have had enough!
I embrace you with all my friendship.
Bissau, May 7, 2012
My dearest sister Assénatou,
Last night before bed I heard the news on Radio France International about the historical, cultural and religious crimes that are being committed in Timbuktu, the holy city. How sad! What confusion! I know this must be a cause of great suffering and profound revulsion for you and other Malians... What can I say? What words can bring you some comfort? Ah! Such difficult times around the world these days, but especially in West Africa and in our homelands. But you're so brave, so courageous, so committed, that I am sure that even now you're not complaining about your fate, but are rather in the heart of the struggle, with other Malians as committed and determined as you, with the greatest discretion and closeness with your fellow citizens! Good luck and courage to you, my sister! We are with you all in our thoughts, and with all our tenderness.
I embrace you with all my friendship,
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