Colonising the Climate March



I went to the Climate March in London -a 50,000 strong triumph – so the organisers say.
It was cold literally and otherwise and I walked through the march feeling like an outsider until I got to the front where the Wretched of the Earth bloc were marching.
It was good to walk with the Global Pan Afrikan Peoples Parliament, it was good to hear Ken Saro Wiwa‘s name being called, it was good to meet with the young members of Black Dissidents it was good to meet Indigenous people from the South Pacific, Peru, Northern Scandinavia.
But in one bizarre moment, there seemed to be some confusion about who should be at the front. The big NGO’s tried to push the Wretched of the Earth out of the way. Some of them were wearing giraffe and zebra head pieces.  I guess because giraffes matter more than PoC and Indigenous human lives.
In the weeks leading up to the march I spoke with PoC activists about participation in conversations about climate change and the consensus was that the climate change movement was colonised by the white middle class.  Those suspicions proved true at the march.
Why is there a lack of understanding that human bodies are at the frontline of these climate struggles? It’s as if the people of the Global South  must always play victim, we are trotted out to perform but we must otherwise stay silent, we cannot articulate our pain, we cannot celebrate our triumphs, we cannot mourn our dead, we cannot shout our defiance.
As the Climate Change talks begin today in Paris, it is really crucial to ensure that the voices of indigenous communities and people of the Global south who are at the frontline of climate change’s effects are heard.
Don’t white wash climate change. Don’t colonise the climate change movement.
We are watching you, governments of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia who are still convinced that industrialisation is the only way forward, yes you bauxite mining in Jamaica,  yes you T&T with your obscene levels of CO2 production per capita,  yes you Nigeria with your unchecked oil pollution, yes you India trying to steal land from the Adivasis.
To the governments of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia who are aiding and abetting corporate colonialism, we are watching you and promise that our communities are finding each other, we are linking our struggles and we are joining voices and forces for justice.
The song the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia raised for Mother Earth is still ringing in my ears. It was more of a wail really, echoing through the heart of Babylondon. I sang for my own African and Indigenous ancestors,  on behalf of those killed for profit, to demand justice not just for the destruction of their bodies but for the destruction of their land, their rivers, their way of life.
The climate march was a stark reminder to me that we can’t wait for others to decide what we need to be doing for ourselves. And in as much as we know that these spaces continue to attempt to deny us our voices, we have to continue to hold the line, stand firm, claim space and shout for justice.  We have to remind them this week and everyday that without Indigenous and PoC participation, any conversation about climate change is meaningless.
Photo by Tom Lebert

Dance the Guns to Silence II – 20th anniversary of the murders of Ken Saro-Wiwa & the Ogoni 8


DAY of ACTION on the 20th Anniversary of the outrageous executions of writer and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 Ogoni men.

8:00 – 10:30am, VIGIL at SHELL, Shell Centre, Waterloo, London, SE1 7NA

Gather at Shell to demand environmental justice in Ogoniland using Ken’s own words, and mark the lives of each of the Ogoni 9. Called by MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) and Action Saro-Wiwa

19:00 (doors open 18:00) , DANCE THE GUNS TO SILENCE II – music, spoken word, performance, DJ. At Rich Mix. £10.00/£5.00 (adv & concs)

Major celebration with performance poets, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, with an introduction by Lazarus Tamana, Coordinator of MOSOP.

Read more about Ken Saro-Wiwa and the struggle against Shell in the Niger Delta here

Music from Virtual Migrants, headliners Bumi and Dele, DJ Tillah Willah, spoken word from Dorothea Smartt, Young Poet Laureate for London Selina Nwulu, Zena Edwards, Sai Murray and the Numbi family.

Plus updates on live events in the Niger Delta. Dance the Guns is a co-production between Numbi, Action Saro-Wiwa and Sable LitMag. Hosted by Kadija Sesay (Sable) and Kinsi Abdulleh (Numbi). Come and make some noise for Ken, whose people are still fighting for justice.

See you there. Book Now.

Numbi: Film & Arts International Festival


“We come together to mend the crack in the sky” – Somali proverb
This Summer Numbi goes Global following on from our frolic with ‘Youth’ in 2014, this year we are exploring ‘Faith’. With Numbi Seed Events connecting metropolitan communities in London, Atlanta and Hargeisa.
As always and in true Numbi Spirit we have a line up of local, national and international artists and educators; the conversation is Global and the platforms made Local.
With events taking place throughout June, July and August 2015 we invite you to immerse yourself in film screenings, live music, exhibitions, workshops, readings and guided tours. #Findyourselfgetfree

The event will kick-off with films selected specially for this evening in collaboration with Legacy Film UK, followed by a showcase of a formidable line up of NUMBI resident and guests including Elmi Ali, Dorothea Smartt Poetic Pilgrimage, Judy Solomon, Ubah Cristina Ali Farah , Rosamond S King, Hassoum Ceesay, DJ Tillah Willah, Jonathan Andre, Anna Lau, Yenenesh Nigusse, Kinsi Abdulleh and Charity Njoki Mwaniki and many more.

Friday 26th June
20:00 – 01:00
£10, £5 concs from Rich Mix box office

Other events to come…
Join us at New Unity in Newington Green for a day of connection, mapping, realignment and relaxation. A whole day event with live-food from 3MW Health; the Art of Centering and Grounding with Naila Natural Yoga; Soul expression & Integration circle, sound healing session with Judy Yodit Solomon & Hatha yoga with Dunya Ntinizi.
Saturday 27th June, 10:00 – 22:00
£10, £5 concs. per workshop
New Unity, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR
The Soul Expression & Integration Circle: helps people to discover and intuitively express the untapped potential that lies in our voice. It is recommended for anyone who wishes to enjoy deeper peace, greater freedom, and mastery of life.
Come and explore your voice and its healing power.
Advance booking essential
The Numbi Kohl Class is a gaze deconstruction workshop where we like to take more than one look. Author and SCARF guest editor Ubax Christina Ali Farah leads an exploration of the connections between the body, self-representation, beauty and faith. Using texts and images as discussion triggers she encourages participants to share and reflect back on experiences and anecdotes connected with the theme. Participants use notebooks to collect and share their voices with sketches, notes, stories and ideas: the notebook becomes an accumulator of ideas and emotions that releases its charge over time.
Sunday 28th June, 11:00
i’klectik Art-lab, ‘Old Paradise Yard’, 20 Carlisle Lane SE1 7LG

Festival pass £30 and full program available at the Numbi Festival Launch @ Rich Mix. Book now!

Put the Mask back in the Mas

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

One jouvay morning in Port of Spain a couple years ago, an Egun priest told me that the ancestors were upset because we were playing mas with our faces uncovered. This year for Jouvay I covered my face and at Notting Hill Carnival yesterday I made the transition back to a mask.

I had the pleasure of wearing a piece of art made by Brianna McCarthy, one of Trinidad’s most exciting young mixed media artists.

The politics of beauty in Trinidad is problematic at best. Look at any band launching event and notice that black women, dark skinned Indian or African women are virtually non-existent.

I am really excited about the ways that Brianna’s work confronts this.

Her website says:
‘Her work takes on the intricacies and dynamics of representing Afro-Caribbean women who are portrayed as being strong, long-suffering, exoticised and picturesque beings against a backdrop of poverty, hardship, abuse and/or scorn. McCarthy’s constructions and representations revolt against and subvert the stereotypical trends of representing the black body.’  

Once upon a time Carnival was a space for women to claim power. These days I can’t tell if Carnival is a space of power or – given the size of the costumes, the expense of the make up and increase in gym membership from October to February – a space where women are forced to seek approval under the gaze of a society that is male and judgemental. 

So the mask is part of that confrontation that needs to take place.  I loved the fear, awe, intrigue, attraction that the mask caused. Men begged me to take it off, children cried, old people smiled and bowed.

Culture should never be fossilized fragments. It should always evolve to serve the needs of the people who practice it. 

But we always need rituals. And performance as ritual – we’ve lost that from our Carnival with the loss of the mask.

And that is what I loved most about about wearing Brianna’s mask – it was a very contemporary take on a very ancient practice of masking – for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of transformation, for the purpose of liberation.

It’s a key part of the obeah that is Carnival and it occurred to me yesterday that half of the reason why the Carnival has lost its power is because of the removal of the mask.

London is the Place


I still smile every time I come out of the Brixton Tube station and turn left, and it’s like being in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean all at once. The incense man outside the supermarket is really from Barbados, though he pronounces “incense” like a Jamaican. A car passes, blasting the latest funky house summer scorcher, the unholiest of combinations of high life’s easy groove, dancehall’s driving bass, and soca’s call to wine.


Piece I wrote for Caribbean Beat Magazineon my ongoing love affair with Babylondon.


Vedanta AGM Protest. London August 28, 2012

Please join us for the eighth annual protest at British mining company Vedanta’s AGM on 28 August, 2.00PM at THE LINCOLN CENTRE, 18 Lincoln’s Inn
Fields, London WC2A 3ED

Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE 100 company dubbed ‘the world’s most hated mining company’ which has brought death and destruction to
thousands. It is owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal and his family through companies in various tax havens. It has been consistently fought by
people’s movements but it is being helped by the British government to evolve into a multi-headed monster and spread across India and round the
world, diversifying into iron in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia, Zinc in Rajasthan, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland, copper in Zambia and most
recently oil in the ecologically fragile Mannar region in Sri Lanka.

* Vedanta is the second most tax evading mining company in the FTSE 100. Billionaire company chief Anil Agarwal is one of the richest men in
Britain with a £20 million home in Mayfair. His family own 62% of the company through various tax havens.

* At their Korba aluminium plant in Chhattisgarh, India up to 100 people are suspected to have been bulldozed into the rubble after a factory
chimney collapsed on them. Vedanta claim only 42 died but between 60 and 100 are still missing.

* At the Jharsuguda aluminium complex in Odisha, an estimated 10,000 people displaced by the plant are forced to live in polluted conditions
under constant surveillance rather than be rehabilitated.

* In Zambia Vedanta’s Konkola copper mines polluted the Kafue river so heavily that it turned green. 100 x acceptable levels for copper and 7,700
x acceptable levels of manganese were found in water depended on by 50,000 people.

* In Odisha, indigenous movements have opposed Vedanta’s bauxite mine on the Niyamgiri hills for seven years and so far prevented it. The whole of
the Dongia Kondh tribe would be affected detrimentally if the mine went ahead.

* Despite protests, environmental disasters and human rights atrocities everywhere the company operates, the British Government have continually
protected and supported Vedanta.

This is what it sounds like when boys cry.

It is an awful sound.  Guttural and raw.  A teenaged boy sobbing.  It is the worst sound and it twists my insides and I am fighting back tears.  Not for the boy these boys are weeping for. I did not know Zac Olumegbon.  Or more correctly, I do not remember him.  He was the little brother of my little sister’s best friend.  She had the most serious face, I remember. I always wondered why children here always looked so serious. Like they had the world of worries.  Perhaps they do, living in this corner of Babylondon.

And if I have run away from Trinidad hoping to escape the endless statistics of little black boys killing each other for honour, to regain their misplaced manhood, I have run to the wrong place.

Brixton, despite the gentrification and the nice gastro pubs and the belligerent foxes, is one of those London places where crime happens.  I don’t see the Eastern European whores in the park anymore and outside the Library they’ve made it all shiny and new.  But there are still old homeless people and young drugged up people and sad drunk people of all ages.  They do not go away despite the shiny new surfaces.

The sight of crying children is unbearable.  I guess because I take such a pragmatic view of death. It happens. It is natural.  Zac’s life as one of the speaker’s says, has been stolen.  Like a chain from someone’s neck.  Like the childhood of all these young people who have to say goodbye to a boy who has not yet lived.

They stabbed him.  Children stabbed him.  Children like him.  What can they possibly know of life to warrant killing a 15 year old.  What could they possibly be so sure of that they can take another life?

I look at the faces of my sisters’ friends.  They are young and old at the same time.  Too much living too soon.  I cherish my own sheltered childhood.  That I got to doubt myself and make believe and wish and dream and never once wonder if someone was going to deny me the chance to make mistakes.

My fought back tears are not for Zac.  They are rather for his friends and family.  Hundreds of them.  Gathered in grief on this bleakest of summer days.  There are long silences punctuated only by half stifled sobs and sniffles.

The police stay a respectable distance.  No profiling now.  No microwaving of leftover sus laws.

A young man read/raps Psalm 37 in the rhythm and truth of his Sath Landin twang.  The cheeky boys from the bus hold each other and cry silently, and then wipe the tears away as if they are angry with their leaking eyes.

My fought back tears are for them.  For their anger and grief.  For his mother and his sister and my sisters and all the young women here who will have to find a way to keep loving these men who are at war with themselves.

What war the Pastor asks. What war can they fight when they own nothing? What post code, what block belongs to them?  What property do they own when they live in state provided housing, are second generation immigrants? Where do they belong? Not even to themselves.

These children cry and my mother instinct moans helplessly.  There is no consoling for this kind of grief.  You can’t stick a dummy in the mouth of a generation that is becoming accustomed to burying their own.

I leave before it is finished.  Leave his mother reading the mountain of tributes.  Leave behind  Zac Olumegbon, who was the little brother of my little sisters friend.  They hope he has not died in vain.  All these people who have come to weep for him.  They hope no more will have to shed tears like this again.  Still, sirens wail in the distance, louder than Zac’s mother, louder than the thud of a boy fainting from grief, louder than the shaky voices of his school friends crying out to Christ for mercy. On this bleak summer day.