Good hair, inspirational women and popular revolt in Sudan

Sokari Ekine*

What do the staggering billions of dollars spent on hair by black women say about them? Perhaps they should listen to some inspirational women. Meanwhile, another Nigerian wins the Caine Prize – but there are questions.


Last weekend I watched the documentary “Good Hair” by black American comedian Chris Rock. He decided to make the film after his five-year-old daughter asked him: “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” The film examines the staggering $9 billion black hair industry, including a frightening expose of the chemicals used for hair relaxing. Watching a can of soda disappear after it is left to soak in sodium hydroxide, the main ingredient of relaxers, is a frightening experience but clearly not enough to put millions of black women off straightening their hair or prevent them from doing the same to their daughters some as young as three years old. [ ]. Rock asks one woman her definition of “good hair” to which she replies “relaxed and looks nice”!

In an article “African Women and Hair Care”, Ghanian Emprezz points out that mineral based products like petroleum and mineral oil which are used daily by a majority of women prevent hair from growth. But far worse is the recycling of hair relaxers…[]

“With the economic status of most women on the continent, it seems prudent to be frugal with expenditure. This attitude is extended to caring for hair where most women will prefer to buy clothes rather than spend on hair products. In the end, they tend to find avenues for recycling what they have and this includes reusing already used relaxers. The relaxer works is still effective with the second application. Eventually, there is no need to buy new relaxers when one can easily use what has been used before. This economic wisdom may take a while to dispel.”


But is what we do with our hair a measure of our consciousness or courage – how important is it really? Kenyan singer Kaz Lucas’s new series on “Kenyan Woman” speaks to this. In the first episode, Lorna Irungu Macharia discusses the challenges of being ill with lupus as a teenager and a young woman. She speaks of her three support networks – her family, friends and doctors and the fact that there are thousands of others in need of a kidney transplant but whose families are maybe too afraid to donate a kidney. My sister-in-law had kidney failure and two transplants so I do have an idea of the pain and tiredness, in and out of hospital, hours on dialysis, waiting and hoping for a transplant. For Lorna one of the biggest hurdles was to live in the context of a future. In an inspirational and courageous five minutes talk Lorna provides this advice to women and to everyone for that matter:

“Whatever situation you are in right now, is the one you need to be in. It’s teaching you something. There are no accidents, there are no coincidences. One of our biggest problems is that we have been told the way in which life needs to be. If you are not obtaining particular milestones at a particular time, you’re failing or you are not there. I honestly believe every single situation you are in… Every single thing you are going through now is a lesson. And so the mantra that I stand by is God asks one request of his children. Do the best with what you have Now!”

There is a trend within African literary circles to marginalise those writers who live and work in the African disapora as if this is not also an ‘African” experience. One that is not ‘authentic’ enough as if one’s birth or childhood can speak to something as abstract as ‘authentic’ let alone an identity such as “African” or “Nigerian”. Olumide Popoola is a Nigerian/German writer and performance poet who lives in the diasporic space; so it was with great pleasure that I read an interview with her on the Nigerian queer blog SOGI. []

“How does your identity play a part in your writing?

“I think my life, not just my personal one but what I see on the perimeters of my horizon(s), is reflected in the characters I create. Themes that interest or disturb me in real life find their way into the story. What I can personally imagine possible permeates the work.

“What’s your opinion on the current state of queer issues in Nigeria, especially the pending anti-gay legislation? How can we work on improving the situation?

“Awareness. It takes a lot of brave people to stand up and say things, contest homophobic attitudes in public. Recently, a straight Nigerian man stated on Facebook that he wanted to de-friend all homophobes, as he was tired with their un-informed and ignorant views. The vendetta was endless and painful to follow. He had incredibly well scripted arguments, based on thorough research and quotes from the bible to defy the common same-sex un-African and un-Christian claims. Yet the hatred was potent. Again, in the end his own acceptance was explained on the fact that he no longer lived in Nigeria, which was an untrue claim.

“I think that a lot of organizing and lobbying is happening continent-wide and hopefully it’s a matter of time before more and more people to speak up and defy homophobic views. Networking and being supportive in the way that we can is important. Listening and following the lead of local activists and which direction they are taking in addressing the issue.”

Popoola is the author of “This is Not About Sadness” and winner of the May Ayim award for poetry in 2004.


The winner of this year’s Caine Prize, Rotimi Babatunde, is the fourth Nigerian to win the prize and whilst we celebrate this fact, the Caine Prize has its limitations not least because it is only awarded to English language writers. In “The case for African regionalism” Jeremy Weate of Cassava Republic [] argues for a more inclusive and decolonized mindset which goes beyond the usual few winning countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“I believe that what is needed now are more regional prizes to nurture and reward the writing coming out of every region on its own merit. We live on a vast continent spanning geographical distances larger than Europe, the continental United States, and the Indian subcontinent combined, and sometimes I don’t think that we pay enough attention to our regional differences. …In Europe, regional differences of language, custom and culture have created markets so distinct that it is rare that French literature is judged alongside British or German literature. So why do we insist that a single prize encompass all the literature being produced by so vast a continent? …Let’s get ourselves out of the colonial mind-set that sees Africa as one monolith and begin to explore the rich individual histories and cultures that make us unique.”

I used to wonder why people write comments in text language until I realised it was because they were using their Blackberrys – the phone that reigns across the continent today. The one which brings kudos such that one of Nollywood’s most watched film is the comedy “Blackberry Babies” followed by “Babes 2, 3 , 4…” the number is endless. I have to admire Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi who clearly spotted the right moment in the Blackberry craze to create the first Blackberry Twitter prize. In June he placed a call on Twitter asking for

“witty, interesting and revealing answers in not more than 140 characters to the question “Why I love my Blackberry”
And the winner is []
Q: I love my BB

A: The world is finally at my fingertips! I stand astride continents. But best of all, I love my blackberry cos I get to stalk my one true love!

Other choice reasons are…

“ love my blackberry because my friends live in it.”

“The issue is with Fruits. Apple brought us to our doom. Maybe Blackberry will end it. I have to love my BlackBerry.”

“I get so caught up in pinging n tweetin on my bb that i often get into the shower with my clothes on…” – this is why i love my BB”


“There’s a revolution going on in Sudan. Anybody listening” #SudanRevolts” was tweeted by Salma Elwardany a week ago – @S_Elwardany. This was after she had been deported by the Sudanese authorities; no doubt fearful of her reports. And, so it goes, the uprising in Sudan continues but still has not received the attention of the mainstream media despite hundreds of tweets by Sudanese activists. In an attempt to draw attention dallia ‏@dalliasd tweeted

“Request to the media: STOP INTERVIEWING SADIG EL MAHDI. talk to the youth mvmts & activists they in-tune with whats gg on‪#sudanrevolts”

Many activists remain in detention including Boshi, Usamah Ali, a prominent citizen journalist and Girifna members Mohamed Izzelden and Rashida Shamseldin. One of the activists recently released is Maha El-Sanosi who has vividly described her time in detention. []

“In my dream, I was inside a tunnel. The tunnel was jammed with cars, and I was in one of them. I was alone in the taxi, and the driver was frustrated with the heavy traffic. The tunnel seemed endless, and I asked the driver to roll down the windows because I could slowly feel myself running out of breath. My claustrophobia started to kick in, and the long queue of cars both ahead and behind me gave me a strong sense of uneasiness. The windows were now open, but I couldn’t feel any air gushing in. I poked my head out of the window in an attempt to find where the tunnel ended… to figure out if freedom was near. The tunnel was a long, endless spiral. I was trapped and there was no way out. Stepping out of the car was not an option; there was no sidewalk inside the tunnel. Death was near; I began preparing myself for it.”

Readers can follow the Sudan uprisings with the hashtag #SudanRevolts.

* Sokari Ekine blogs at . Article culled from PAMBAZUKA NEWS

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