Gambian author Saikou Camara addresses Omaha African Festival
Guest Speaker Saikou Camara’s address to Omaha African Festival, July 15 2018. It is customary in our culture that before you speak in a gathering you must first acknowledge and greet the elders. As custom dictates, I now recognize and greet the elders among us here today.
Saikou Camara was Guest Speaker at Omaha Africa Festival Today I recognize everyone in this gathering as Africans and those not from Africa, I bestow upon you Africanhood. It was Steven Biko, South African freedom fighter who got murdered during the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa who said “I am African not because I was born in Africa; I am African because Africa was born in me”. If you have the interest of Africa and Africans at heart, I greet you. Yesterday evening while sitting at home I attempted to write a speech for this occasion. I went through the guidelines the organizers of this event sent me. They ask that I refrain from talking about politics and religion. And I understand why they took that position. The goal of this event is to celebrate our diversity, share our commonalities, and foster unity among us. But when you invite an African man to a gathering and you ask him not to talk about religion and politics you might as well rescind his invitation. Because when you take politics, religion, and soccer out of our vocabulary we have nothing else to talk about. Long story short, I ended up not writing a speech because I couldn’t write anything. I came to the conclusion that I do not need a written speech to speak with my people. But I also have a moral obligation to speak sincerely and honestly when I speak with my people. And it is Mahatma Gandhi who said that the culture of a nation is in the heart and soul of its people. Culture is defined as people’s ways of life. And as Africans our politics, our religion, are equally important as the food we eat, the music we dance to, and the clothes we wear. Therefore, if I happen to make a political or religious comment, I promise that I will only do so in the spirit of unity and culture and nothing less. When I first came to this country (United States) not so long ago ,being African was not attractive. Even we the Africans were ashamed of our African identity. When we speak they laugh at our accent ,but when the French and British speak English in their accents, they are admired. They laughed at our strong physical features and called us ugly. Our hairstyles and clothing fashions were frowned upon. They said our foods stink with foul smells. We were considered uncivilized even though Africa is considered the mother of civilization. They called us stupid and unintelligent even though we graduate with Cum Laudes, Magna Cum Laudes, and Summa Cum Laudes . Many researchers have shown that African Immigrants in the U.S have the highest ratio of college graduates and degree attainment compared to any other sub group in this country, even when compared to Caucasians. But today the African culture is celebrated and appropriated by other cultures. Things that we hold near and dear to our hearts are now being marketed in the mainstream. Things that we reserve for special occasions such as funerals, weddings, child birth, and other relevant rites of passage are now being casually flaunted around without historical understanding or paying respect to the continent and our people. Today I have seen Hollywood make movies about Africa and Africans and even use non-African actors and actresses with fake accents. Being African is glamorous. I have seen American artistes making music using Afro beats. Thanks to our Nigerian brothers and sisters for their creativity, being African is cool today. I have travelled around America and seen people dressed in dashiki-styled prints and even Zara is selling dashiki style prints clothing today in their stores. Being African is profitable. I have travelled to Australia and saw Australian women with cornrows in their hair. I have travelled to France and Jollof rice is almost as popular as Italian pizza and French fries. I have travelled to Belgium and seen Belgian women wearing beautiful dresses made out of wax materials and they wear it well I must say. I have traveled to Washington D.C and seen American women dancing and twerking to Azunto music, and they dance well I must say. I have traveled to the UK and saw English men and women dressed in batik and tied and dyed fabrics. I have even travelled to Indiana and saw multi- cultural centers with no Africans, drumming and dancing to Jembeh drums. Ohhh my people being African is in style today. I have seen our Nubian queens being sought after by men from other cultures, I have seen other women from other cultures have started using your waist beads to entice their men, and you African Mandingo men I have seen women from other cultures seeking and marveling over you. Ohhh I said being African is sexy and attractive. Asian businessmen continue to invest heavily in Africa and reaping the benefits of our resources. It seems the entire world is now romanticizing Africaness and profiting from our culture except us the Africans ourselves. That is why when I was invited to come and speak at this very important gathering, even though I was scheduled to be in Chicago this weekend, I had to cancel my trip to be here. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to time travel with you all the way back to 1961 to Congo. And I would like to paraphrase the last letter written by a great African son that many are familiar with, Patrice Lumumba before he was murdered. The letter was believed to have been written to his wife Pauline Lumumba. And you Congolese that are here excuse me if I misspoke, the letter was originally written in French and I do not speak French, I will only be paraphrasing. Dear Pauline, he said. I am writing you this letter without knowing if you will receive it, or if I will be alive or dead when you receive it. Now that I know without any doubt that I am going to die, no amount of cruelty, torture, and insults is going to make me beg for mercy. I will die with my head high with faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country. I will rather die than to live in humility and renounce the principles I consider to be sacred to me.
Tell my children whom I may never see again that the future of this country is bright and I expect them and every Congolese to fulfill the sacred task of restoring the independence of this country. Don’t cry when I die, because a day will come when the history of Africa will be written by Africans. And it will not be the history taught at the United Nations, Washington, Paris, and Brussels. But it will be the history of glory and dignity. Shortly After, he was shot and killed and his body dumped in an acid. Tonight before I go to sleep I will speak to Patrice and I will tell him that today I saw your prophecy come to life in Omaha NE. I have witnessed your children displaying and presenting their culture with pride and dignity. You are the children of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, kennet Kaunda, Nelson Mandela, Modibou Keita, Askia Muhhammed, Sunjata Keita, Mansa Musa, Yaa Assante waa, Julius Nyerere, Rasta King Salasie, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Amilca Cabral, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Thomas Sankara. You are not children of a lesser God, reclaim your history back, and make your culture great again. You the Ghanians, dance to your Azonto music, you the Nigerians and Senegambians cook your jollof rice and take pride in it, you the Malians reclaim the term Mandingo again, you the Kenyans remind the world that the language of love is not French, it is not Spanish, it is Swahili, tell the world Nakupenda. You the Tanzanians share your culture of Ujaama and family unity. Dance, sing, rejoice and remind the entire world that you are not children of a lesser God and that you came from a lineage of great ancestral bloodline rich in culture. God bless Africa and the rest of the world.