08-03-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
"If Africa were not a woman, it would be called Africo'.
The bad joke is not mine (fortunately, but I have done worse) but that of a fellow writer, journalist and viveur of the last century.
Indeed, Africa can be considered a female continent.
If one thinks of its virginity, its slavery, its imposition of rules, but also of its pride, its fertility and ability to give birth and raise its offspring, its being indifferently Saint, Savage, Pure and Whore, Africa in this game of symbolism is certainly assimilated to the female sex.
In the beginning, most of the tribes that populated Kenya, for example, were matriarchal.
Women ruled the house, the land and the children.
Men were responsible for hunting, protection from wild beasts and providing raw material for reproduction.
The arrival of hostile and warmongering Nilotic tribes forced the Bantu to hand over command of their families to the men, and as the Mijikenda prophetess Mepoho had predicted, their civilisation would become distorted, wiping out centuries of history and peaceful coexistence between tribes and even within families.
As the Ghanaian educationist and missionary James Emman Aggrey would later say at the beginning of the 20th century: "If you educate a man, you will have educated an individual. If you educate a woman, you will have educated a nation".
In those very years in Kenya, it was a woman, Mekatilili Wa Menza, who gave her people their first revolutionary impulse, laying the first stone along the tortuous and bloody road that would lead the country to independence from the British Empire.
Mekatilili was a young Giriama woman from the hinterland of Kilifi who, after having her two younger brothers kidnapped by Arab merchants who would sell them as slaves, decided to rebel and create the first resistance movement on the Kenyan coast, enlisting farmers and herders from Kilifi to Mambrui. History records her courage and charisma, like few other female figures in the world.
Twice she was imprisoned by the British in lager-like labour camps, and twice she managed to escape and return to the 'bush' inside Malindi.
Thanks to her and her rebellion, the Mijikenda gained better living conditions and were able to work their land without seeing most of its fruits confiscated.
Other great women participated, perhaps behind the scenes in a battle of men and soldiers as was the case with the Republic of Kenya.
They have often contributed inner strength, wisdom and common sense, culture and civic engagement.
One of the best known is Micere Mugo, scholar and playwright, imprisoned during the Mau Mau revolution and author, together with the great writer Ngugi Wa Thiongo, of the booklet 'The Trial of Dedan Kimathi' (the Mau Mau leader assassinated by the British and betrayed by many of his fellow fighters).
Micere was the first woman to study in a Kenyan college, creating de facto mixed schools, and has always fought for freedom of ideas and opinions, so much so that even under the Kenyatta government she was forced into exile, first in Zimbabwe then in the United States, where she was a university lecturer.
And how can we fail to mention Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
A veterinarian and environmental activist, she created the "green belts" movement, saving the Karura forest from disappearing during the urban development of Nairobi, and making the whole world aware of the protection of many other endangered situations in East Africa.
For this she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, not only for her contribution to the environment, but also to development, democracy and peace.
Finally, we cannot fail to celebrate with pride the women who are fighting the ancestral and sexist practice of genital infibulation, a sort of atrocious initiation rite for African teenage girls, which causes not only changes in sexuality, but also serious infections.
One heroine in particular, Maasai Nice Nailantei, became a worldwide symbol of the fight against female genital mutilation shortly after coming of age.
She grew up in a rural village on the Kenyan slopes of Kilimanjaro, Kenya, and like Mekatilili Wa Menza has twice fled, not from British slavers, but from her own family.
Now she travels the world as an ambassador for Amref.
Her work with the association, which has always fought for the health rights of African people, has enabled her to save more than 2600 women from different tribal communities.
Perhaps the Africa we like is a woman, because women know how to get involved, and ever since they were forced to carry large loads simply by putting them on their heads, they have been able to walk proudly with their heads held high.
Happy women, happy Africa!
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