October 2008 Interview: Dr. Ifi Amadiume

Listen to an Mp3 of the interview HERE.

Interview Transcript

Dr. Ifi Amadiume is a poet, anthropologist and essayist from Nigeria. She has been a faculty member at Dartmouth College since 1993. Widely regarded for her pioneering work in feminist discourse, Dr. Amadiume is currently the chair of African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College. Blackademics, welcome Ifi Amadiume.

Pierce Freelon:
I just have three questions for you, it will be very brief. The first one is kind of a long question. In your book, Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism, you talk about women’s movements that are grassroots, and then institutional women’s movements. And I think in this age, in the 21st century, with all the media and the propaganda out there, sometimes it’s hard to tell if an organization is really struggling for the rights of the working class, or whether they’re like the Daughters of Imperialism and reproducing class. For example, like a cell phone company talking about “buy our phone, we’ll save Darfur or cure AIDS”.

Ifi Amadiume:
Exactly yeah, yeah.

I was wondering if you could talk about just from a standpoint of not “intellectuals” – if you’re reading the books, you really get to understand, but a lot of people might really be confused. How can we tell the difference and start to recognize the daughters and sons of the Goddess, versus the institutions?

ifiamadiumeThat issue keeps coming up, even coming up in class among my students especially if I’m referring to my work, Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism and critiquing class reproduction. And it’s becoming important for me to not completely close the door when I’m talking to young people. Because on one hand there’s an appeal to young people that each generation must set it’s own agenda and at all times in history young people have been at the forefront of the struggle, of leadership, of doing things. So there would be inspired young people wanting to go to Africa to do things, that’s one level of involvement that I don’t want to discredit. At the other level of criticism that ties into your question – more recently I’m looking at Daughters of the Goddess… I’ve seen it as almost Prophetic. Prophetic not in the positive direction, but illustrating a lot of those warnings that have now come to pass. Organized groups going to Africa are tied to NGO sponsorship, you see what I mean, corporation’s sponsorship. And almost reproducing Daughters of (Imperialism) at the international level leaving little room for grassroots women’s involvement. They are going to… almost a recolonization to “civilize” villages, to teach in schools. You know? No organic development, no organic mobilized development, or even if there is, no recognition of it’s own authenticity of it’s own leadership working from local.

AIDS is a big disadvantage, that grassroots is presented as dying or diseased. So if you present them like that, they’re needy, there is no self-sufficiency, even to the level of their infrastructural needs. These groups are going to build more holes, build water in the 21st Century. So it is advanced in the direction of imperialism. And those Daughters of the Goddess that I wrote about, rather than where I put them as consultants, individual professionals connecting with international capital and therefore reproducing class through these individuals who try to help grassroots people and so on – they are now actually running NGOs, you see? We call them floating NGOs. You see? You don’t see the kind of transformation that I thought having Daughters of the Goddess working with the establishment might lead to individuals, more presence of some of those individuals in political parties, as candidates, even in collaboration with that, we don’t see it.

Patriarchy is there, women’s oppression is there, but your position to it has changed. The position has changed. We are no longer evoking a mobilized force that is locally generated. The inspiration I saw at the grassroots – you don’t even have that option as a stance, now. Penetration of class, penetration of the corporate imperialism, is much much more. Now at the local level, with no accountability being enforced on that international intervention. It is a long wait and an important question and it’s taken a long answer.

The next question also goes back to your book. Really, your book introduced me to a more intimate look at genital mutilation, so called female circumcision, and other issues of what you call sexual terrorism. I was wondering, as activists and feminists, what can young people do? Because you talked about young people being important. What’s the best coarse of action we can take in challenging these and other institutions of patriarchy. Really challenging that institution that you talked about earlier.

I think.. policy. Going through policy enforcement. Sometimes those policies are already in place. We’re pointing to those positive policies to deal with those questions. Making new laws, enforcing existing laws, and then knowing – educating themselves about it from the perspective of contextualizing these problems in their cultural and traditional settings. It’s primary, you know? Important. Rather than “modernizing” and “civilizing” you know? You still, to some extent, have to understand contextually – those problems. Whether solving them also will require working at the grassroots – if the problem is at the grassroots. Sometimes it is assumed that the problem is at the grassroots, that is not necessarily so. Because cultures advance, cultures transform. Most of the time, actually, they are compounded by supposed modernity. They become new forms of those problems. Say we’re dealing with Ghana, for example. Questions of polygamy is a modern problem. It’s not a traditional problem in the way it is practiced traditionally. Now take Ghana – most of it’s society is matrilineal. Modernity: new laws, state intervention imposes new marriage systems on Ghanaian families, over and above matrilineal rights. This gives rights to a husband, who traditionally is actually not part of the family. Because the foundation of matrilineality is based on sisters and their sisters relationship to their brothers. Brother becomes brother and father in matrilineality. You can see how the new laws assume that a husband who is the same in his own family becomes double.. and is given rights where he doesn’t really have it. You see? It’s a new problem. But unfortunately when they look at it they go to tradition and see the problem in a traditional setting. This is a post-colonial problem. It’s a post-colonial imposition. Where law should liberate, law is dis-empowering in terms of property, in terms of status, in terms of naming. Just giving you one example of something new.

What was your last question, very quickly.

My last question was about Ghana. We’re here at the Ghana symposium celebrating 50 years of independence from colonialism, so I was wondering if you could talk about, from a woman’s perspective – the importance of Ghana.

Good, so you got into that in the last question to some extent. Another important part of Ghana is traditionally women are structurally very important in Ghana. Economically – market women, politically – women’s council within religious traditions. And in traditional government local government, you’ve got partnership – the queen and the king. An integral part to the political system.

Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

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