It is difficult to survive with your siblings by scrounging for food. But that’s the life that was once lived by Phiona Mutesi out of Uganda. Called “the ultimate underdog” by those who admire her, the young woman has risen to become one of the most celebrated and respected chess superstars in the world. In fact, they are planning to make a Disney movie out of her story.
When she was three, Mutesi’s father died of AIDS. She doesn’t even know her real birthday. “I thought the life I was living, that everyone was living that life,” she said to CNN. “I was living a hard life, where I was sleeping on the streets, and you couldn’t have anything to eat at the streets. So that’s when I decided for my brother to get a cup of porridge.”
The girl said that her lack of exposure led her to think that this was the life she was intended to live. A missionary by the name of Robert Katende met the little girl and started a chess program. He offered a bowl of porridge to any child who would learn how to play.
“It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases — and possibly not giving up,” he told CNN. “The discipline, the patience … anything to do with life, you can get it in that game.”
The man immediately noticed how talented the young woman was and groomed her for competition. She said that it took her a year to learn to play well and that she would walk four miles to practice in order to get the food. Eventually, Mutesi became the Ugandan champion and was competing in Russia.
“Chess gave me hope, whereby now I’m having a hope of becoming a doctor and … a grand master,” she said.
Disney has bought the rights to her story, which is one that will inspire millions around the world.
Julie Wangombe, 23 years old Nairobian and a student at Duke University, first discovered spoken word poetry at Slam Africa events. Today she performs for audiences globally. She is also Kenya’s President-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta’s speechwriter. She wrote his acceptance speech that he delivered on 09 March 2013, soon after being declared the winner of the presidential election. The speech has received praise from many Kenyans, who have described it as inspiring and unifying. You can read the speech here.
I saw this on The Reunion of Black Family World Wide facebook page. It is so empowering and inspiring I had to share:
Mwalimu Baruti: Gounding With My Daughters
Our story is a phenomenal record of Afrikan women. No other women have been so loved, coveted and envied for their strength and elegance.
Their lineage determined whether a man could be pharaoh. The world’s first divinities were female. The world’s first female doctor, Preshet, who was a “chief” physician, was a Kemetic woman. The world’s first ruler of an empire, Hatshepsut, was a Kemetic woman. The warrior who, even after Europeans tried to break her spirit by kidnapping, torturing and beheading her sister, relentlessly led the Angolan armies in a fight against the enslavement of Afrikans and the Portuguese onslaught for four decades, a woman so feared by her white enemies that she was called “The Black Terror, “was a queen named Nzingha. The warrior queen named Sarraounia militarily defended her people against Islamic invasion at a time when states all around her were submitting to this forced conversion and relinquishing their Afrikan spiritual traditions. Queen Candace led her troops in battle against the invading forces of Augustus Caesar. The remains of the world’s oldest human belonged to an Afrikan woman named Amargi (misnamed “Lucy”).
The list of your accomplishments on the Continent alone is endless. Many are the names and deeds we will never know but can surmise because we know Afrikan women. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our ancestral mothers’ social position as equals with our ancestral fathers led other people’s men, afraid to lose their patriarchal privilege, to suppress and brutalize their women to keep them from aspiring to what Afrikan men accepted as normal for Afrikan women.
In being themselves, ancestral Afrikan women had no difficulty taking up arms with their men against invaders. On the Continent, they commanded armies, served as guards, spies, guerrillas, foot soldiers, archers. They became responsible for keeping the oral ourstorical record when the men were carted off to slave on plantations and mines. On the Kemetic Ocean, during the Middle Passage, they did no less. They were the eyes and ears of our revolts. They dealt with our enemy as their men did.
Enslaved or quasi-free in the western hemisphere and elsewhere, they did no less. Time and time again, they conducted enslaved Afrikans out of physical bondage. Harriet Tubman, in looking back over her life and thinking about the hundreds of Afrikans she had freed from the physical bonds of our enslavement, reflected on how she “could have freed thousands more if they only knew they were slaves.” Sojourner Truth, making the point that Afrikan women did the work that supposedly only men were capable of, refused to accept being defined down to the level of european females. Her cogent question of “Ain’t I a Woman?” still rings as a wake up call in our ears.
Standing tall alongside the likes of Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune and Fannie Lou Hamer, they withstood insults, taunts, water hoses, dogs and bullets. They spoke truth, regardless of consequences. They more than earned the honor of being named “first teacher” and nurturer.” These various acts made them neither less than nor more like men. None of these responsibilities negated or confused their womanhood. They defined it.
You are the daughters of these incredible mothers who gave birth to humanity, to cultivation, to civilization. You are the inheritors of a legacy beyond the imagination of most. So, young sisters, you must recognize who you are in order to see and begin to fulfill your responsibility as a woman of Afrika. Only a clear understanding of ourstory, through our people’s eyes, permits this. Any other interpretation, anything less, fosters confusion.
Simply because you are being exposed to ourstory you are very privileged. And privilege carries responsibility. With it, you accept the difficult and humbling task of learning and teaching others so that your generation’s liberating mission can be fulfilled and correctly passed on to future generations. It is because of your privilege that you have an undeniable responsibility to your ancestors, those around you, and those yet to come.
There is nothing so powerful as a young sister who knows who she is, who stands proudly on the shoulders of her ancestors because she knows she is the culmination of their wisdom and spirit. Nothing is more beautiful than a woman warrior in training who has studied her own before and above all others, and interprets reality and society out of that truth first.
Happy Birthday Angela Davis!
Very interesting post and conversation. I encourage any comments to be made at original post (here).
As my feminist consciousness has developed the more I’ve become aware, both explicitly and implicitly, that there is a popular notion that feminism is un-African. Every time I write a post about feminism in an African context, I get at least one response about how feminism is this flawed, white supremacist ideology. The internet is rife with articles about this so I’m not going to pull up too many examples. Most argue along the lines that feminism is “diabolically anti-African anti-human neologism emerging out of the Eurocentric reactionary women’s movement in the 50’s”
What’s problematic about these arguments is not that people have a different opinion, as is their right, but that these critics don’t even bother to understand what African feminism is about before attacking it. Yes, there is global feminist consensus, but it is also important for African feminists to shape our own ideological home for African feminism through which we can view African women’s issues. In fact, this is very much an ongoing process and like all political work, it is nuanced. To very briefly summarize, some African feminists thinkers and activists are liberal, post-modern, eco, socialist feminists etc and some adopt a more radical approach to challenge the legitimacy of patriarchy. African feminists are concerned with the domestic imbalance and gender roles, but also about so called ‘bread and butter’ issues like poverty reduction, violence prevention and health and reproductive rights which affets African women worse than men. African feminism is just as much about the inter-connectedness of slavery, colonialism, racism and so on and how these historic realities have caused women’s oppression.
Yes, the term ‘feminism’ does not have African roots, rather, it came to the continent largely due to the African-American feminist movement. However, the concept itself is not one that western feminists exported to African women. Africa has some of the oldest civilizations and so it also has some of the oldest patriarchies. And African women have always found ways of resisting patriarchy through manipulating popular ideas of motherhood, or religion, or labour. The argument that feminism is un-African is also flawed in its romantic view of pre-colonial Africa. Even if African societies were egalitarian, which wasn’t always the case at all, most African societies, have now imported a largely western gender order, one that is patriarchal.
I find it sad that an African woman can debate Greek democracy in Accra or Freudian psychoanalysis in Harare or US capitalism in Lagos and be qualified as political, not western. But let us even mention women’s issues and someone will be quick to accuse you of neglecting our African past and being brainwashed by western values. The reality is African politics is not gender neutral and pretending that it is despite all the suffering that gender inequality causes is much more ‘un-African’ than what any one person chooses to affiliate with.
One of the most arduous struggle one can go through, is the struggle to safeguard one’s human dignity, as well as the right to safeguard the integrity of one’s own body. These go hand in hand. This struggle is more intense than the struggle for food, shelter, clothing, political rights, religious rights, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, etc.
This is not a matter of comparing or ranking the various struggles people are engaged in. In many cases they may intertwine. However, regardless of one’s gender, colour, ethnicity, religious or political affiliations, social status, sexual orientation, etc., when one has to engage in a war for their personal dignity and bodily integrity, you are not just battling against flesh and blood, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”.
No clearer is this seen than the treatment of African women and girls… by standards set for the benefit African men! Not all African women, girls and by all African men, but specifically in the exploitation of forced marriages, the denial of education, the brutal use of rape as a weapon of war and the barbarity of female genital mutilation. I saw this documentary on Al Jazeera, “Abandon the Knife” on female circumcision in a rural communitiy of Kenya. My emotions went from astonishment, anger, sadness and empathy and others I can’t define. I commend the young women on their courageous stand to fight for their dignity, to protect their integrity, to take control of their future and to dream the impossible dream.
“Human dignity is more precious than prestige”.
Claude McKay, 1889-1948