Letter

A tribute to africa descendants in Latin America.

By Gacheke Gachihi
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Dear Editor Venezuelanalysis.

Greetings from kenya.

From Kenya we read the Venezuelanalysis,we get informed on many great progress of social change in Venezuela and Latin America and in support of South- south Dialogue we organized a Forum about africa Descendants in Latin America, Where the Venezuela Ambassdor in kenya attended and he gave a speech about Afro-venezuealan, and the social struggle , hope our article about the forum advance our south -south dialogue.

Warmest Regards.

Gacheke Gachihi- Cordinator Kenya Venezuela-friendship society.
[email protected]

Kuwakumbuka na Kuwasikiliza: A tribute to African Descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean, August 9th 2008, Huruma, Nairobi
By Wangui Kimari and Gacheke Gachihi (Watoto wa Anastasia na Otabenga and Bunge la Mwananchi)

On August 9th 2008, over one hundred and forty people from both local and neighbouring communities gathered in a little hall in the middle of Kia Michael village, Huruma, Nairobi. These Kenyans, unassuming, of various beliefs and affiliations, had responded to the call to remember and to listen to the voices of those who had crossed the Atlantic many years before. To commemorate that black/ brown formidable wave who in their unimaginable suffering contributed greatly, often insufficiently acknowledged, to what the world, particularly the Americas and the Caribbean, is today.

Aptly named, Kuwakumbuka na kuwasikiliza (to remember and to listen), the purpose of this event was to remember that there are African descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean and, to listen to these voices and their experiences, at once similar and diverse.

For this first event the countries in focus were Cuba, Brazil and Venezuela.
Before, we talk about the actual activities at the event and the wide array of issues that arose in this process; we feel it is important to provide the motivations for such an endeavour. This will also be an answer to the question which we are so often asked, and when put bluntly is; why would people in Kenya, with their own profound socio economic problems, stop to remember African descendants in a continent that often hesitatingly acknowledges its African heritage?

Our answers, of equal importance are:

We remember because

· We do not want to forget those many people of various origins, transplanted violently from their homes, who died fighting for the dignity of all peoples as they imagined a future of self determination. These are for example Zumbi dos Palmares, Benhos Bióko, Nanny, Charlotta, Maria de Oliviera, Anastasia, Otabenga, Toussaint Louverture, the Malês, Francois Mackandal and many many uncommemorated peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean.

· We feel that within this continent that spares little memory for those that traversed the Atlantic, we need to recognize that there are a lot of cultural practices preserved in Latin America and the Caribbean that in this context should be relearned in the quest for more indigenous, sustainable approaches for our own growth.

· We would like to connect with each others struggles, particularly because we feel many of the endemic problems arose from the phenomenon of self negation, exemplified in for example, our obsession with melanin and incessant devaluation of what is considered ours. This phenomenon we believe, saw an unparralled proliferation (if not its genesis) during the middle passage which we are all victims of.

· We would like to recognize each other, to great each other, to recreate links, whose effects we believe shall generate benefits (global) of unimaginable proportions.

· Overwhelmingly, we would like to establish greater solidarity and union of all peoples.

Huruma is in many spheres recognized as a neighbourhood with many unacceptable living conditions. It contains within it the most number of animal slaughter houses in Kenya, and with insufficient boundaries between man and animals, this provides room for diseases such as TB, and other maladies to be spread. Together with housing for the low income earners, it also has within it various sub villages of diverse income, and parts of these are often considered "slums." If spoken about in public forum, the initial remarks would be on its high crime rate, domestic abuse, prostitution, increasing poverty and extra judicial killings by the police. Nonetheless, as one active resident reaffirms it is really emerging as a location where a lot of social organizing is taking place. This is as the residents, a majority of them women and the youth from a variety of ethnic communities, have come together in many diverse and formidable ways so as to themselves overcome the many injustices consistently established and fortified by this system that prioritizes capital over human worth.

One organization whose vision permits for greater, more consistent and consolidated organizing within this community is the Ongoza Njia Community centre, set up by the Reality Tested Youth program. Calvin Mbugua, one of the key coordinators, provides that this centre began as a means to hinder the further deterioration of living conditions in the community. Certain that development and consciousness does not come from erratic aid provided by erratic donors, this endeavour began as a means to provide the information that would empower the resident to make their own self generated and sustainable progress. It was with the support of this centre, that Watoto wa Anastasia na Otabenga with the help of Bunge la Mwananchi, the Nigerian, Cuban and Venezuelan diplomatic missions and the Kenya Venezuela Friendship association that this first tribute was held.

As mentioned earlier, present on this day, were the over one hundred and forty people whose participation ensured the success of this first commemoration. Together with the mothers, community leaders and students, also of great importance to this event, were representatives from Nigeria (the ambassador and his personal assistant) Cuba (a Cuban teacher), Venezuela (the ambassador, her Deputy and other colleagues) and the Kenyan representatives who filled in at the last moment to talk about Brazil (the Brazilian representative did not come).

The first part of the day was dedicated to presentations conducted by the various representatives, on the history of black peoples in their countries and the magnanimous contribution that was made by the aforementioned to the creation of these countries in focus. Together sipping on our tea and mandazi, we learnt about the significant presence of Yoruba/Igbo/Hausa in Latin America and the Caribbean, about the African religions, African influenced music and languages and the independence struggles in these contexts whose motor was the slaves and free peoples with heritages from this continent.

After a brief lunch, influenced by the at once somber and joyful tunes of a local women's choir called Ithike wi thaya (bury yourself when you´re still alive), we danced ourselves back to the little hall where we would watch a film depicting the life of the Afro Cuban musician El Benny. This was followed by a brief discussion period.

During these two activities, many questions were voiced both publicly and internally. The majorities of these were about this diaspora, and were for example, "you mean there are that many black people in Latin America?", "what have been their journeys"? "You mean that they have such similar rituals?" e.t.c. The audience was also very curious about the political and economic systems of Cuba and Venezuela, and in regards to Nigeria, wanted to know more and voiced concern over, the treatment of the MEND group in the Niger Delta. Another very salient issue that arose in the course of this meeting was the ongoing killing of youth in the area, principally by a police officer named Ngare, who is known to have killed at least thirty young men in the last three years yet still walks free and malevolent. It was through such seemingly disparate, yet important and related discussions that arose, that the audience was able to situate what they had just watched and heard in their own contexts.

In emphasis of what has just been said, this community having been brought together to remember the past also used this forum to discuss pertinent local and international issues. This demonstrates the need for more spaces for community assembling and dialogue, a dialogue that will inevitably lead to the organizing that will break down the sinister frontiers that hinder real social and political equity.
As this was the first event we had organized that sought to commemorate this African diaspora, there are many lessons that we have learnt in such an undertaking. In a follow up meeting to reflect on the event, two of the most essential lessons that were strikingly obvious are the importance of community in any social action and furthermore the need to remember the past in order to harvest solutions, healing and reconciliation for the future. It is with this in mind, that we shall endeavor to keep remembering and listening to those who crossed the Atlantic those many years before, as we hope that in their example and from their journeys we can procure symbols for change, for Anastasias children in Huruma and beyond.

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